Why is the postal service buying ammunition? ...
You can add the U.S. Postal Service to the list of federal agencies seeking to purchase what some Second Amendment activists say are alarmingly large quantities of ammunition -- and, for the most part, for reasons unknown.
In late January, the USPS posted this notice on its website under the heading of "Assorted Small Arms Ammunition," Solicitation Number 3CD-14-A-0009: "The United States Postal Service intends to solicit proposals for assorted small arms ammunition. If your organization wishes to participate, you must pre-register … This message is only a notification of our intent to solicit proposals."
The bigger question, of course: Why?
"We're seeing a highly unusual amount of ammunition being bought by the federal agencies over a fairly short period of time," said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Washington-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. "To be honest, I don't understand why the federal government is buying so much at this time."
It's not just the USPS.
A little more than a year ago, the Social Security Administration put in a request for 174,000 rounds of ".357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow point" bullets, the online solicitation read. Before that, it was the Department of Agriculture, requesting 320,000 rounds. And more recently, the Department of Homeland Security sparked widespread concern over its desire for 450 million rounds -- at about the same time the FBI separately sought 100 million or so hollow point rounds.
"We realize that the House is still investigating the ammo purchases by the administration, but from what we've seen so far, most representatives don't seem alarmed," said Erich Pratt, director of communications for Gun Owners of America. "For example, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said that given all the agencies that the Department of Homeland Security purchases for, '450 million rounds really isn't that large of an order.'"
Perhaps. The Department of Homeland Security employs in its various law enforcement entities -- from the Coast Guard to the Secret Service to Customs and Border Protection -- more than 200,000 workers, an estimated 135,000 of whom are authorized to carry weapons. And when the agency makes its ammo buys, it often does so over the course of several years, rather than in a one-stop shop bulk buy.
"The government agencies are still putting out contracts and getting them fulfilled," said Jake McGuigan, director of state affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, in the context of discussing ammunition shortages on store shelves. "There's still a little bit of that … I think DHS or Customs has a 10-year contract" or five-year contract, so their ammunition orders for tens of thousands of rounds are actually spread out over the course of several years.
But that doesn't really explain away the SSA's ammo buys -- or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's request for 46,000 rounds. Or, the Department of Agriculture's purchase of 320,000 rounds in 2011, including 50,000 to fit a 9 mm and 120,000 for a 40 cal. Or, the Department of Education's buy -- way back in 2010 -- of 27 Remington Brand Model 870 police 12-gauge shotguns, as reported by The Washington Post.
As Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, asked: Why exactly does a weather service need ammunition?
"NOAA -- really? They have a need? One just doesn't know why they're doing this," he said. "The problem is, all these agencies have their own SWAT teams, their own police departments, which is crazy. … In theory, it was supposed to be the U.S. Marshal's that was the armed branch for the federal government. Now they all have their own SWAT teams."
Only they're not called SWAT -- they're called the offices of investigative service, or the offices of inspectors general, or some other equally bureaucratic sounding name. For instance, regular Internal Revenue Service tax agents aren't equipped with on-the-job guns -- but those affiliated with the agency's Criminal Investigations Division are. That goes for workers with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with the Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General and with the Department of Education's Office of Inspector General, too. The Energy Department, the Health & Human Services agency, the Commerce Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, i.e. USAID -- they're just a few of the federal entities that boast an armed division, tasked with investigating fraud and suspected criminal activities. As such, the agents get to carry guns.
"Most of these agencies do have their own police forces," said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Gun Owners' Action League.
And that, perhaps, more than federal ammunition purchases, is the larger issue, he suggested. Van Cleave agreed.
"What's the need for that? Do we really need this? … That was something our Founding Fathers did not like and we should all be concerned about," Van Cleave said, speaking of the seeming expansion of police forces throughout all levels of government.
Still, most gun-owning Americans in recent months have been more focused on the sharp reality of the federal government's buys than on constitutional considerations: Store stocks of ammunition have dried.
The reasons for the empty shelves were two-fold, McGuigan said. First, widely reported federal ammunition purchases sparked conspiracy-type fears among gun-owners, who worried the federal government was trying to crack down on Second Amendment rights via the back door, he said. And second, the Obama administration's stated desire to scale back gun rights in part drove more in the private sector to purchase firearms -- which, in turn, fueled ammunition sales, he suggested.
"Over the last few years, there's been a tremendous increase in gun ownership, [with] many more females," McGuigan said. "I think a lot of people need to be aware of what's happening … and what the federal agencies are doing. I don't think, though, they need to be overly concerned that there's not going to be any ammo left."
Not all are so willing to dismiss the possibility the federal government has a Second Amendment smack-down in the works with all its ammo buys, however. After all, it's the federal Environmental Protection Agency that just shut down the last smelter plant in the nation, via regulatory crackdown. And it's the EPA, joined by the FBI, that just swarmed into USA Brass manufacturer in Montana, closing the plant for a day or two for unspecified reasons. The notion of an Obama administration using backdoor means to achieve a personal agenda of scaling back gun ownership -- an agenda that's hardly been kept secret -- doesn't seem that outlandish to some.
"I don't believe in conspiracy theories, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense," said Gottlieb. "The amount of ammunition they're buying up far exceeds their needs. It far exceeds what they'll use -- they'll never use it all."
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