Republican congressmen are giving credibility to Alex Jones and his conservative fringe website Infowars.com, which popularized a conspiracy theory that DHS is stockpiling ammunition for nefarious purposes. The conspiracy theory has now inspired legislation known as the AMMO Act of 2013, which seeks to limit the ammunition purchasing power of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), even though the underlying theory was based on flawed math and a mischaracterization of the facts.
How A Fringe Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory Inspired Congressional Action
Alex Jones' Infowars.com: DHS Is Stockpiling Ammunition, Many Fear Gov't "Is Preparing For Civil Unrest." Last year, Infowars.com, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones,began speculating that DHS was stockpiling ammunition for several ominous reasons. A March 2012 post wondered, "[W]hy does the Department of Homeland Security need 450 million rounds of ammunition? Either this is an incredible waste or there is something that the Department of Homeland Security is not telling us." Infowars.com later claimed the Social Security Administration was also stockpiling ammunition, and floated the notion that DHS's purchase was to prevent "civil unrest":
The Department of Homeland Security has redacted information relating to the quantity of bullets it is buying following a controversy concerning the agency's purchase of over a billion rounds of ammo, which many fear is a sign the federal government is preparing for civil unrest in the United States.
The DHS' decision to censor information related to bullet purchases for immigration authorities could also be an attempt to assuage concerns that the agency is expecting to have to resort to force to deal with a mass influx of immigrants from Mexico. [Infowars.com, 3/29/12, 8/15/12, 8/15/12]
Conservative Blogs Promoted InfoWars.com's Government Stockpiling Theories. The conservative news aggregator, The Drudge Report, promoted numerous InfoWars.com articlesdetailing the stockpiling conspiracy theory. The narrative also jumped to the conservative blog The Daily Caller, where retired U.S. Army Major General Jerry Curry wrote in an op-ed, "Potentially each hollow nose bullet" purchased by the Social Security Administration for its law enforcement arm "represents a dead American." [Media Matters, 4/26/13] [The Daily Caller, via Media Matters, 8/28/12]
Fox News And Fox Business Question DHS's Motives: DHS "Seems To Be Arming Up." On the March 23 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight, Lou Dobbs claimed that DHS is buying "2 billion rounds of ammunition" and asked, "What in the world is going on as the Homeland Department -- the Department of Homeland Security seems to be arming up and the administration is trying to disarm American citizens?" Three days later on Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned DHS's purchases and wondered, "Why they need all those bullets? Can someone answer please? Hello?" [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/4/13] [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/26/13]
Republican Congressmen Held Hearings To Investigate DHS's Procurement Of Ammunition. On April 25, Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (OH) and Jason Chaffetz (UT) held a joint hearing "to examine the procurement of ammunition by the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General." [House Oversight Committee website, 4/25/13]
Republican Legislators Introduced The AMMO Act To Limit Federal Agencies' Possession Of "Unnecessary" Ammunition. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress that would require the Government Accountability Office to report on DHS ammunition purchases. The bill would restrict ammunition purchases in order to prevent stockpiling by government agencies. In a press release, Sen. Inhofe's office transcribed his introduction of the AMMO Act to Congress:
"President Obama has been adamant about curbing law-abiding Americans' access and opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights," said Inhofe. "One way the Obama Administration is able to do this is by limiting what's available in the market with federal agencies purchasing unnecessary stockpiles of ammunition. As the public learned in a House committee hearing this week, the Department of Homeland Security has two years worth of ammo on hand and allots nearly 1,000 more rounds of ammunition for DHS officers than is used on average by our Army officers. The AMMO Act of 2013 will enforce transparency and accountability of federal agencies' ammunition supply while also protecting law-abiding citizens access to these resources." [Sen. Jim Inhofe, 4/26/13]
Myths & Facts About DHS Ammunition Purchases
MYTH: DHS Has Ordered "2 Billion Rounds Of Ammunition" And "2700 Light Armored Vehicles." On March 4, Infowars.com wrote that DHS had reportedly purchased "2,700 mine resistant armor protected vehicles" and "more than 1.6 billion bullets," which the author claimed was "getting a little creepy." The same day on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs repeated that claim, stating that DHS is buying "2 billion rounds of ammunition" and "2700 light armored vehicles ... allegedly." [Inforwars.com, 3/4/13] [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/4/13]
FACT: DHS Initiated A Contract To Buy Up To 450 Million Rounds Of Ammunition Over Five Years. According to the Military Times blog, DHS awarded an Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract to ammunition manufacturers that allows DHS to purchase ammunition in bulk, up to a certain quantity - in this case, 450 million rounds over five years. Military Times explained:
So if DHS hasn't actually bought 1.2 or 1.6 billion rounds in one year, then what have they bought, and what do they plan to buy? Well, a year ago they awarded an IDIQ contract for up to 450 million rounds of .40 S&W ammunition over the next 5 years. They plan to buy, over the next 5 years, 63 million rounds of a wide variety of ammunition ranging from 12 gauge birdshot to .38 special wadcutter to .30-06 FMJ ammo; there are even line items for .308 blanks.
An IDIQ, or indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, means that DHS didn't simply buy 450 million rounds of ammunition at one time. The contract is spread out over a 5 year period, and it's an upper limit, meaning up-to-90 million rounds of .40 S&W each year from that up-to-450 million round award. DHS could, if they wished, buy 73 million rounds the first year, 84 million the second, and so on. It depends on their needs at the time.
There is, as mentioned above, an Infowars article which refers to a "750 million round purchase," but the PDF linked in said article is a solicitation which only contains line items which add up to 63,256,000 rounds. [Military Times blog, 3/15/13]
FACT: Marine Corps, Not DHS, Purchased 2,700 Light Armored Vehicles; DHS Acquisitioned 16 "Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles." Business Insider reported that according to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Marine Corps is responsible for the purchase 2717 light armored vehicles, not DHS. While DHS does own similar vehicles, they number far fewer than Dobbs reported. From Business Insider:
The Department of Homeland Security is using 16 military-style, mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles for use during "high-risk warrants," according to an official spokesman.
The MRAPs were transferred to DHS from the Department of Defense, free of charge. But despite recent reports, they have actually been in service since at least 2008.
"The MRAPs we have are not new," Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for DHS, told Business Insider. "We have been using them for years."
The vehicles are modified for use with the DHS Special Response Team -- specially trained, fully armored agents dispatched during the most severe and high risk situations, according to WOAI.
Update: An earlier version of this post included a figure of over 2,700 vehicles, as cited from the original RT link. This figure likely comes from a press release from Navistar Defense, mentioning delivery of 2,717 to the U.S. Marine Corps. A DHS Spokesman confirmed with Business Insider that they have only 16 nationwide. [Business Insider, 3/4/13]
MYTH: DHS Is Purchasing Ammunition To Limit Availability Of Ammunition. While introducing the AMMO Act in the Senate, Sen. Inhofe claimed that President Obama has been adamant about curbing law-abiding Americans' access and opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights." Inhofe went on:
One way the Obama Administration is able to do this is by limiting what's available in the market with federal agencies purchasing unnecessary stockpiles of ammunition. [Sen. Jim Inhofe, 4/26/13]
FACT: DHS's Ammunition Purchases Reflect A Small Fraction Of The Firearms Industry. According to a report by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, "[I]n 2012 the firearms and ammunition industry was responsible for as much as $33.36 billion in total economic activity in the country." During that same year, DHS spent $36.54 million on ammunition, which represents merely 0.11% of the entire market. [Firearms And Ammunition Industry Economic Impact Report 2012, National Shooting Sports Foundation, accessed 5/6/13] [Department of Homeland Security via Sen. Coburn's Office, 1/13]
FACT: DHS Buys In Bulk To Save Money, And Similar Contracts Saved $336 Million In 2011. DHS uses IDIQ contracts in order to purchase supplies in bulk and leverage the needs of the entire department to save money, as Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland's (R-GA) office explained:
In this case, DHS entered into a contract that allows them to purchase up to 450 million rounds of 40 caliber ammunition over the next five years. They cannot exceed 450 million rounds and are not required to purchase 450 million rounds. Basically, they have a tab with a manufacturer to order more rounds as they are needed over the next five years - not a onetime ammunition order.
Setting up contracts in this manner allows for a cheaper purchase price, saving money over the long-term. In fact, contracts like this one saved taxpayers $336 million in FY2011 alone. Additionally, purchasing in bulk like this helps DHS headquarter conduct better oversight over its agencies and ensures consistency among all the agencies under DHS.
To put this more concisely, just like you and your family take that monthly trip to Sam's Club or Costco to get your bulk needs cheaply, DHS also buys in bulk because it saves the American taxpayers money. [Office of Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, 5/15/12]
MYTH: The Government Is Amassing "Excess" Ammunition." As U.S. News detailed, during the congressional hearings over DHS's ammunition purchase, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. stated that "The idea that you have to have excess rounds, year after year, flies in the face of common sense." [U.S. News, 4/25/13]
FACT: DHS's 100,000 Armed Law Enforcement Officers Could Get As Few As 900 Rounds Per Year. The Military Times explained how even if DHS purchased 90 million rounds of ammunition per year, approximately the maximum amount under its five year contract, each officer may only get 900 rounds per year to shoot, because DHS employs over 100,000 armed law enforcement officers. From the Military Times:
DHS could, if they wished, buy 73 million rounds the first year, 84 million the second, and so on. It depends on their needs at the time.
But isn't a total which might approach 90 or 100 million rounds per year excessive?
DHS is a massive umbrella agency, with over 100,000 armed law enforcement personnel according to a DHS spokesperson. If we divide 90 million by 100,000, that means each agent gets 900 rounds per year to shoot. That isn't a whole lot, considering that civilians going through handgun training courses sometimes shoot twice as many rounds - in a single weekend.
Furthermore, federal agents, including those under DHS, generally use the same ammunition for duty and practice.
In other words, that 5-year, up-to-450 million round ammo purchase is just what the agencies need to sustain proficiency for the next 5 years. [Military Times blog, 3/15/13]
FACT: Ammunition Purchases Have Decreased In Recent Years. According to the Department of Homeland Security, total ammunition purchased has declined since at least 2010. Total cost has declined as well.
[Department of Homeland Security via Sen. Coburn's Office, 1/13]