Don’t Be Paranoid: Homeland Security is Cutting Way Back on Bullets
DHS ammo purchases decline for fifth consecutive year
Spend much time around the more tinfoil corners of the Internet, and you’ll likely see stories about stockpiles of ammunition being bought up by the Department of Homeland Security—complete with conspiracy theories of looming martial law and a plot to artificially constrain the ammo supply.
Despite the popular paranoia, DHS has been cutting back on ammo purchases for years.
A report released by the Government Accountability Office on Feb. 12—the most comprehensive summary of DHS bullet buys to date—found the agency bought only 84 million bullets in 2013, the smallest amount in years, and will cut back further to 75 million bullets in 2014.
This is a small fraction of the hundreds of millions of bullets allegedly bought by DHS, as frequently cited by conspiracy Websites.
Last year, these allegations were openly embraced by several prominent Republican legislators including California Rep. Darrell Issa. It’s worth noting the National Rifle Association was an early debunker of the theory.
True, 75 million bullets is still a lot of bullets.
But it’s a relatively small number when spread out across 70,000 firearms-carrying agents in seven DHS sub-agencies including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Protective Service and the Secret Service. Border Patrol makes up the largest number of firearms-packing agents in DHS at 43,000.
According to the GAO, DHS bought enough ammo in 2013 for roughly 900 rounds per agent.
How much is too much?
Is 900 bullets a lot for one person? If you never go to the range (or don’t own a gun) it can sound that way. But realistically, it’s not—if you spend much time shooting.
DHS agents typically have to qualify with their service pistols four times per year, and fresh Border Patrol agents fire around 3,300 rounds during initial training and qualifications, according to the GAO.
Veteran agents usually shoot around 600 rounds to qualify.
So why the confusion? Articles frequently published on popular conspiracy theory sites—which have also made the leap to conservative blogs including The Drudge Report—have referenced DHS solicitations totaling 704 million rounds through 2018.
But as the GAO notes, this amount refers to the maximum number of rounds the agency has the option to buy through that date.
Likewise, despite conspiracy theories that the DHS is deliberately hoarding excessive amounts of ammo—a frequent topic on firearms forums to explain shortages on the shelves—the GAO estimates total DHS ammo purchases are fewer than one percent of total purchases in the U.S. when compared with data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
DHS sub-agencies typically keep enough ammunition on hand to last one to two years given a regular training schedule, according to the GAO. Delays —the military has priority—require the department to buy years in advance.
Total ammo purchases are also roughly equivalent to the Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, DEA, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“DHS ammunition purchases are driven primarily by the firearms training and qualification requirements for the firearm-carrying workforce, though other factors are also considered by DHS when making ammunition purchase decisions,” the GAO noted.
In 2009, DHS ammo purchases did rise to 133 million rounds, but has declined since. The GAO attributes the 2009 increase to a boost in Border Patrol agents which began under Pres. George W. Bush and continued by the Obama administration.
The U.S. began experiencing a nation-wide ammo shortage in 2008 after Pres. Barack Obama’s election. The rush for ammo has continued following calls for tighter gun control laws in the wake of several mass shootings.
The irony is that the hysteria over looming martial law foreshadowed by DHS ammo purchases is often promoted alongside fears of an invasion across the Mexico border. DHS then beefs up Border Patrol, temporarily increases its ammunition purchases to train the new agents, which is then circulated by the same media outlets as evidence of a government run amok.
But it’s bunk. The reason for the declining purchases is also simple: declining budgets. This has meant DHS “reducing the number of training classes, and drawing on [DHS] ammunition inventories,” the report noted.
If anything, the government is buying too few bullets.