On February 17, I posted an article titled “Billions and Billions of Bullets” that catalogued the extraordinary amounts of ammunition being purchased by federal agencies, including some one would never imagine having any need for ammunition.
Since that article was posted, a number of sources have posted debunking articles, not specifically debunking my own humble musings, but the very idea that there is anything about which to worry. Among the most prominent recent articles is one by Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review Online. Cooke is not worried:
Those who are vexed that the state is stocking up on ammunition — and troubled by fears that this might be a step toward D.C.’s assault on the citizens for whom it works — can relax for now. Whatever the federal government has become, it is not yet plotting violence against the people.
While I am not yet ready to cry “the feds are comin’, the feds are comin’!” I suspect Cooke may be just a bit too easily reassured. He seems willing to be convinced by the arguments of the very agencies that are buying all of the ammunition. This too may not necessarily be naïve, but there are reasons to be wary, not the least of which is Mr. Obama’s all-too revealing comment from the campaign trail in 2008:
We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded.
Consider Cooke’s rationale for accepting the debunker’s arguments:
Nonetheless, one could reasonably ask why the Social Security Administration would need any ammunition at all. Are the elderly especially unruly these days? Jonathan L. Lasher, in the SSA’s external-relations department, explained to the Huffington Post that the ammunition is ‘for the 295 agents’ in the outfit’s office of inspector general ‘who investigate Social Security fraud and other crimes.’ Divide the rounds by the number of agents, and you get about 590 per agent; in a given year, that’s about ten rounds a week. ‘Most will be expended on the firing range,’ Lasher continued.
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. Moreover, as the chief of staff to Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R., Georgia) revealed in a press release in May 2012 that was designed to calm the fears of his constituents:
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 one-time ammunition order.
Think of it like ‘that monthly trip to Sam’s Club or Costco,’ he added.
Cooke’s arguments sound eminently reasonable, until one considers the nature of law enforcement agencies and firearm training. Consider his take on the ammunition usage of the Social Security Administration. If we consider the 590 rounds per agent per year–“about ten rounds a week”–the amount of ammo purchased doesn’t seem excessive. One might even be comforted by the idea that “Most [rounds of ammunition] will be expended on the firing range.”
On the firing range?! One would hope so! If not there, where are they being expended? In bars? Shooting pensioners? At drunken office parties or lavish conferences in exotic locations?
Law enforcement officers are commonly issued only the number of rounds necessary to fully load the magazines they are authorized to carry. An agent carrying a handgun with a 15 round standard magazine will normally be issued a total of three magazines and a total of 46 rounds (one for the chamber). Qualifications are rarely held more than twice a year, and usually only once. Courses of fire seldom–if ever–exceed 50 rounds. Issued ammunition is usually fired in qualification, but no more often than once a year–usually less often–and new ammunition is then issued.
What this means is the average agent will be consuming–in qualification shooting–no more than 100 rounds a year. They aren’t given ammunition on a weekly or even a monthly basis. They are strictly responsible for each and every round and discharging one of those rounds for any reason is an occasion for voluminous paperwork. For the agents of the SSA, that leaves some 490 rounds per year per agent not necessary for their normal duty use.
It is possible that agents would use more ammunition if they regularly trained, but that’s unlikely, and again, normally wouldn’t require more than another 100 rounds per year per agent, if that.
If we make the same comparison with the FBI and DHS, the numbers are even more out of whack. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that these agents expend 1000 rounds each in qualification and training every year. What about the remaining 6, 187 rounds per agent left over? Let’s give them 2000 rounds per year (highly unlikely, but why not?), and we still have more than 5000 rounds per year unaccounted for by the demands of the job.
Assuming the government is being truthful about buying ammunition in such a way as to save money and ensure steady supplies–we all know how cautious the federal government is about saving taxpayer money–one might be somewhat heartened by its potential fiscal probity. But this is not about saving money, it’s about the government’s intentions with all of that ammunition. Cooke continues:
Fair enough. But here one starts to sympathize with the malcontents. There is a world of difference between the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, or Forest Service and the Department of Education, and that there is no grand clandestine plan for the subjugation of America should by no means be taken to imply that every government action is acceptable. Questions do still abound: 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? Should its OIG be investigating external fraud rather than handing it over to the police or the DOJ or the FBI? For those federal departments that play no role in combating domestic and foreign threats — such as the DoE — what would constitute a threat requiring armed confrontation with malefactors?
In 2011, a story about a Department of Education raid went the rounds. Initial versions suggested that the department had commissioned a SWAT team to break into a California home and arrest the estranged husband of a woman who had defaulted on her student loan. Mercifully, this was incorrect. There was no SWAT team involved, nor was the target being investigated for unpaid loans. But the reality was not necessarily much better. Instead, the DoE announced that it had conducted the raid itself, in pursuit of an American citizen that it suspected of “bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds.” It was a disaster; the suspect no longer lived in the house, a fact that special agents eventually discovered after they had smashed in the doors at dawn, thrown the occupant’s children into a police car, and kept the suspect’s (innocent) husband in handcuffs in a hot squad car for six hours.
As the local ABC affiliate reported, in an attempt to clear up the confusion, “police officers did not participate in breaking [the target’s] door, handcuffing him, or searching his home.” Instead, the Department of Education did. Judging by their ammunition purchases, the Social Security Administration and the IRS could have done so, too. That, and not fantasies about a plan to counter phantom civil unrest, is what should concern Americans.
Good points indeed, but is there any reason Americans can’t be concerned about undertrained and potentially dangerous bureaucrats playing SWAT trooper, and about the possibility that the federal government is planning to put down civil unrest? Anyone imagining that the DHS, the agency that considers unremarkable Americans terrorists for daring to enjoy firearms, be veterans, support the Constitution or express patriotic sentiments, is not making contingency plans for such possibilities just doesn’t understand the bureaucratic or the Progressive–but I repeat myself–mindset.
We get a lot of e-mail with various doomsday scenarios built on conjecture, and we don’t address most of them for the simple reason that we’d rather focus on actual issues. This particular meme has built up some staying power, however, and Cooke’s column should get wide distribution in order to set minds at rest and put them to more productive use. And Cooke has a suggestion where we can start:
Questions do still abound: 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? Should its OIG be investigating external fraud rather than handing it over to the police or the DOJ or the FBI? For those federal departments that play no role in combating domestic and foreign threats — such as the DoE — what would constitute a threat requiring armed confrontation with malefactors?
Read this all the way through to see what happens when organizations without a criminal law-enforcement mission try to go it alone; it doesn’t end well. Shouldn’t agencies like the DoE work through the FBI or US Marshals in order to enforce the law? This seems like a ripe area for reform and consolidation within the federal government, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we couldn’t wring out some significant savings by eliminating duplication in law enforcement.
Morrissey raises some worthy points as well, but it will harm nothing for minds to be a bit less restful and a bit more distrustful of a federal government run by a man steeped in the Chicago way who doesn’t much like America, and seems to like Americans even less.
Sorry, gentlemen. I’m neither crying wolf nor buying the “nothing to see here; move along,” line. One thing I am absolutely not willing to do, however, is take the Obama Administration at its word, about this or anything else. They’ve taught me too well.
UPDATE, 03-06-13 2040 CST: Up for a good conspiracy? I’m not sure what to make of this one, but much of what is being said is, at the least, plausible. And we are on the road to fiscal collapse. The only question, if major changes are not made and soon, is when? Barack Obama surely isn’t going to do anything to protect America from financial disaster.
By all means, take the link and see what you think.