The Truth About Government Ammo Purchases

March 8, 2013

“There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily.” –George Washington

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The last few months have seen troubling news of massive government purchases of ammunition. Agencies from the Social Security Administration to the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Homeland Security have purchased millions of rounds. But is the whole thing more hype than substance?

Ever since Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, he has been selling guns and ammunition at a faster clip than any gun salesman could hope for. And since his re-election, citizens have been faced with severe shortages of both. This can only be exacerbated by large government purchases. The Social Security Administration (SSA), for example, purchased 174,000 rounds and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) bought 320,000 rounds. More understandable in purpose but also perhaps more staggering in scale, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) put in a request for 450 million rounds, while the FBI intends to purchase 100 million.

The headlines are ominous, but some of the hype can be put in perspective by doing a little math. National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke does just that. The SSA’s request for 174,000 rounds amounts to just 590 rounds for each of its 295 inspector general agents “who investigate Social Security fraud and other crimes.” Some of us might go through 590 rounds in an afternoon at the range. As for the USDA, 320,000 is enough to provide the same number of rounds for 542 agents, and, through the Forest Service, those agents have an area the size of Pakistan to cover.

When it comes to the bigger orders, Cooke writes, “The FBI and DHS’s apparently vast orders are deceptively presented by the conspiracy theorists. It is true that in 2011, the FBI ordered up to 100 million bullets for its 13,913 special agents (which works out to 7,187 per agent). And, yes, the Department of Homeland Security — a composite department that oversees USCIS, Customs and Border Protection, FEMA, ICE, the TSA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and the National Protection Directorate — placed a request for up to 450 million rounds for its 65,000 armed personnel (which works out to 6,923 per agent). But in the real world, ammunition is not divided up and handed out on such a basis. What is bought is stockpiled and then allocated on the basis of need. The DHS’s order is expected to last for at least five years, and it was placed up front primarily as a cost-saving measure.” Indeed, DHS is not even bound to buy that much; they merely have a tab on which to order more rounds as needed.

That certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t questions or that we should simply shrug and look the other way. For starters, the Department of Education recently placed an order for “27 Remington Brand Model 870 police 12-gauge shotguns.” This might lead any reasonable person to ask, as Cooke does, “Whether it is in possession of one bullet or 1 million bullets, should the federal Department of Education be armed in the first place? If so, why?” We would add, should there even be a Department of Education? But that’s a topic for another day. The DoE has been known to botch raids when it was the wrong enforcement vehicle from the start.

The same questions could be asked of any number of bureaucracies. Does the Social Security Administration really need an armed enforcement division? We’ve known some unruly seniors in our day, but that seems to be overkill.

Then there’s the information that’s just plain false. Reports have been circulating that DHS has procured 2,717 Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) vehicles. The truth is, DHS has had retrofitted MRAPs since 2008, and now has 16 of them for serving “high-risk warrants.” The figure of 2,717 comes from a delivery to the Marine Corps, not DHS. None of that, however, takes away from the problem that these are more properly military vehicles for war zones, not law enforcement tools. The militarization of law enforcement is undeniably troublesome. Furthermore, DHS is the same bureaucracy that claims right-wing extremists pose a threat, and it’s run by an administration that thinks that “weapons of war” shouldn’t be on our streets. Unless they’re the ones driving them, apparently.

There are certainly troubling trends here and very real threats to our Liberty, but we must be careful not to exaggerate. While readers know that we never minimize the outrageous growth of government beyond its constitutional bounds, it also doesn’t seem to us that the government is, as some have put it, “stockpiling bullets in case of civil unrest.” Questions about procurements and functions? Absolutely. Apocalypse? Not ye

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