The Government is Ordering Millions of Bullets…Should I Be Worried?

by Greg Ellifritz

I’ve been contacted by several friends recently about the Federal Government’s ammunition purchases. Apparently, the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security has ordered 750 million handgun, rifle, and shotgun rounds (in addition to the 450 million purchased earlier this year). You can read the actual request for proposal HERE.

My friends are concerned that this signifies that the Federal Government knows something that we citizens don’t and is preparing for future problems. Even worse, some believe that the ammunition order is tantamount to an act of war against the citizens of the USA. After all, why would Federal agents need more than a billion rounds of hollowpoint and match grade ammunition?

Some of the media hype around this incident has been prompted by the slanted “journalism” in articles written on the Prison Planet and Info Wars websites. For an example of one such article, check out the link below:

DHS To Purchase Another 750 Million Rounds Of Ammo

While I often find myself agreeing with the articles posted on these two sites and occasionally even listen to Mr. Jones on the radio, I think that they are wrong on this issue. I’m completely open to the idea of governmental conspiracies and regularly research such claims, but I really believe this “conspiracy” is just more media hype. Here’s why:

1) The Feds train with expensive bullets. I’ve trained agents in the FBI, ATF, DEA, Secret Service, and Border Patrol in my job as a firearms instructor. I’ve also witnessed hundreds of thousands of rounds fired by the various Federal Agencies that rent my police range and in training classes that I’ve attended. This gives me a little bit of an inside track on their procedures.

Unlike most citizens and the majority of local law enforcement agencies, most Federal agencies do not use cheap (full metal jacket) training ammunition. They shoot very expensive (around $1 per round) hollowpoint bullets during all their training sessions. I personally believe that this practice is wasteful, as functionally identical training rounds can be purchased for roughly 1/3 of the price of a premium hollowpoint round. Most agencies shoot the cheaper bullets in training and carry the more expensive bullets for duty use. Not so with the Feds. They practice with the same hollowpoints they carry on duty.

If you don’t believe me, look at the title of the bid proposal linked above. It says “Commerical Leaded Training Ammunition”. And yes, the spelling error was included in the original proposal. Additionally, you can look to the “questions” section of the proposal which states:

“ANSWER – No. For clarification we are purchasing training rounds only and not duty rounds as specified in Part D, SOW paragraph 1.0.”

The Feds aren’t trying to amass hollowpoints to kill large numbers of American citizens. They just use them in training. The practice is fiscally irresponsible, but it isn’t a conspiracy.

2) There are a lot of Federal Agents. This ammunition supplies all of the agents who work for the FBI, DEA, ATF, Secret Service, Homeland Security (including Border Patrol), National Park Service, US Marshals, CIA, Federal Air Marshals, and a host of smaller Federal law enforcement agencies. Check out this Wikipedia Article for a complete list of all of the agencies for whom the Federal Government buys bullets. All in all, there are about 120,000 armed Federal agents with arrest authority.

The contract is a bid for a MAXIMUM of approximately 750 million rounds over a 5-year period. It could be for as little as 1000 total rounds per year.

“The Government guarantees a minimum of 1,000 rounds per year on each resultant contract. Contracts will be for a base year and four (4) 12 month option periods.”

Doing the math, that means at maximum each of the Federal agents will expend approximately 6200 rounds in practice over five years. That’s about 1250 rounds per year. I order the bullets for my municipal police agency. As a point of comparison, I budget for approximately 1500 rounds per officer per year. The 750 million number seems high, but when you do the math, it really isn’t.

3) Consider budget cycles. The Federal Government’s fiscal year ends on September 30. If you are unfamiliar with government budgeting, the line item for each budgeted item is generally handled in a “use it or lose it” fashion. If agencies don’t spend their allocated funds, they generally can’t carry them over to the next year. The surplus is returned to the General fund. Many agencies strive to spend every last cent of their budgeted money. If they don’t, bureaucrats tend to assume that they don’t need all the allocated money and cut their budget in the future.

Consequently, at the end of each fiscal year every agency is on a spending spree, trying to use all of their unspent money before it “disappears”. The timing of this huge ammunition purchase is suspicious to me. It looks to me like the Federal Agencies are trying to use up all their surplus cash by buying something they know they will use in the future…ammunition. It’s easy insurance against future budget cuts and is done by every municipal, state, and local government agency in the country.

You can disagree with the practice on principle (as I do), but until a zero-based budget is adopted across the board, these late year purchases will happen. Again, fiscal irresponsibility does not necessarily equal “conspiracy”.

4) The Feds might be planning ahead. I’ve been responsible for ordering my agency’s ammunition for the last 13 years. I’ve learned to anticipate market trends. If I don’t, I may not have enough ammunition for my officers. Here’s an example…

In 2008, prior to the presidential election, there was a massive increase in ammunition demand. People were stockpiling ammunition fearing that if Barack Obama was elected, he would initiate some type of gun/ammunition control legislation. People were buying all the bullets they could out of fear that they would not be able to buy more in the future. Market forces went to work. The excess demand drove up costs (ammunition prices almost doubled) and created shortages. My department had to wait more than a year to get our ammunition order (and it cost twice as much). It was difficult to conduct training.

A similar trend appears to be happening again in the run up to the presidential elections. Guns and ammunition are starting to be less available than they were just a couple months ago. Costs are going up. The Federal Agencies are likely to be recognizing this as well. They don’t want to be in the same spot they were in 2008, scrambling to find training ammunition and paying way too much money for it.

This large bid is likely their effort to “step to the front of the line” and get their ammunition ordered now…ahead of any potential shortages. That’s actually some intelligent forethought, not a conspiracy to kill American citizens.

Like I said earlier, I believe in a lot of “conspiracy theories”, but not this one. I can understand how people can think that this massive ammunition order is a sign of future problems, but I really don’t believe that’s the case. I know these arguments aren’t likely to convince everyone, but I do hope that a better understanding of some of the facts surrounding the ammunition purchase may provide food for thought.

Greg Ellifritz is the full time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Greg has a master's degree in Public Policy and Management and is an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer's Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute.

For more information or to contact Greg, visit his training site at Active Response Training.

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