March 21, 2008

Still Flogging the False War-Related Ammo Shortage

Jeff Quinton alerted me to this story online at Baltimore Radio station WBAL earlier this week, and still online:

Quartermasters with the Baltimore County Police Department became aware of a higher demand on ammunition as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and planned accordingly.

Bill Toohey with the department says their supplier was giving the priority to military ammo and it was difficult to get "day to day" bullets.

Toohey says as a result they switched suppliers who is not so dependent on military contracts. He says they also purchased a nine month supply of bullets instead of the usual six month supply. "At the moment we have more than enough to get us through so if there is a problem we have some pad to fall back on," says Toohey.

The Sheriff in Washington County and police chief in Hagerstown say in addition to have a shortage of ammo for their agencies they are also paying more for bullets.

Toohey says the cost of bullets has also gone up in Baltimore County. He tells WBAL Radio that they were spending $209 dollars per one-thousand bullets that the officer's use now the county pays $278 per thousand. "But again they saw this coming and built it into the budget," says Toohey.

The problem with this story? It is unequivocally false, as was the original Associated Press article that first made a similar claim last summer.

If Wikipedia is correct, the BCPD uses the Sigarms SIG Pro 2340 as their primary sidearm, a firearm that does not use the 9mm NATO pistol cartridge used by our military. It is therefore false to claim that that any ammunition shortage of this caliber of bullets is due to military usage.

The same Wikipedia entry notes that for backing up the SIG Pro, the Remington 870 pump-action 12-gauge shotgun plays a secondary role. 12 gauge-shotguns, while used by the military for specific roles (typically door-beaching, CQB, and guarding prisoners), is used in far fewer numbers than the M16/M4 weapons systems. Claiming that a war-related shortage of ammunition affects the BCPD shotguns is also false.

The only possible firearm cartridge used by the BCPD that could conceivably be impacted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the .223 or 5.56x45 NATO round used by the relatively few BCPD officers issued M16 or M4-type firearms.

But this claim is also untrue.

As I noted in great detail on my post of August 20, 2007, the ammunition factories and production lines that supply our military are completely separate from the ammunition factories and production lines that supply ammunition to police and the general public.

After speaking with spokesmen from three of the largest ammunition manufacturers in the United States, it became clear that the primary cause of the shortage of ammunition for police departments was the direct result of increased consumption by police departments.

Police departments (and civilians) are purchasing more .223 Remington/5.56-caliber firearms, particularly military-style carbines.

Once purchased, police officers much train to acquire and maintain their proficiency with these weapons, and it is the increased consumption of ammunition by police that is most directly responsible for their own ammunition shortages, as manufacturers we unable to catch up with increased police demand.

Another cause of the shortage is increased demand in developing nations for raw materials used in cartridge manufacturing, particularly brass and lead.

What... you think that China was able to produce all the lead for their toy industry internally? No, they purchase those materials on the global market, including the United States, which drives up raw material prices.

Sadly, though Jeff Quinton addressed the factual inaccuracies of the story yesterday morning, and I contacted both the BCPD and WBAL's newsroom shortly afterward to retract their false story (after providing them with the names of contacts of the three largest military and civilian ammunition manufacturers, Brian Grace of ATK Corporate Communications, Michael Shovel, National Sales Manager for CORBON/Glaser, and Michael Haugen, Manager of the Military Products Division for Remington Arms Company Inc), the news outlet seems less than interested in discovering the facts than in pushing a poorly-sourced story that relies on police quartermasters, men in no position to have direct knowledge of why demand has risen.

WBAL's newsroom seems far more interested in taking the lazy way out than practicing professional journalism. If you would like to ask WBAL to retract this demonstrably false story, you can contact them here.

Be polite, and perhaps we can make sure they stay on target in the future.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at March 21, 2008 11:29 AM

I got my Graf and Sons sale flyer the other day. In it they had surplus Lake City .223 brass for sale, the first time in a while. They also had some Lake City bullets. If the ammo supply was so dire the Lake City arsenal would certainly not be selling brass, and bullets, to the handloading trade.

Posted by: Peter at March 21, 2008 02:40 PM

Tungsten is another crucial component of ammo, milspec especially. Tungsten deposits here in the US were declared off limits during the Clinton administration for reasons of forest conservation. That may be the right decision (I don't think so) but if the issue is the price of hot lead, this is a strong contributor.

Posted by: megapotamus at March 21, 2008 03:05 PM

Interesting, but hardly surprising. The mainstream media has an astonishing lack of knowledge about firearms, the military, and any related issue. Unlike the post WWII generation when many young men returning from the military took jobs in the media, today's media is overwhelmingly liberal. One can search newrooms in vain trying to find anyone who has ever served in the military or who owns a firearm, to say nothing of having any specific knowledge about firearms apart from that gathered by watching movies (if that's your main source of information, you barely know from which end of the gun the bullet exits).

While fighting a war certainly burns a great deal of ammunition, I suspect we'd find that the Vietnam war used a great deal more ammunition than the current war is using (what was the figure? 50,000 rounds expended for each enemy KIA?), yet as one who lived through the Vietnam era, I can't remember any ammo shortage then, nor have I experienced an ammo shortage now. Check the common catalogs such as Cheaper Than Dirt and it's immediately apparent that there is no shortage of ammunition in any caliber. I would suspect that virtually any local gun store can also procure any common caliber in any quantity one might wish.

In addition, police agencies that are using .40 S&W ammunition (a very common police caliber these days) will surely find that their price per thousand is substantially higher than the price for the same quantity of 9mm ammunition. But this has always been the case. The prices are higher yet for .45 ACP ammo and rifle ammunition, but again, this has always been the case. The 9mm round has simply been around much longer than .40 S&W and there is a far greater supply of the ammunition available around the world, thus prices are lower. Supply and demand, not the machinations of the evil Bush administration.

It sounds like this was a story too good to check. It certainly maintains the preferred media line on the war. I suspect it will also turn out to be a story that is too good to correct.

Posted by: Mike at March 21, 2008 06:59 PM

Quick correction. .223 is not the same thing as 5.56. 5.56 is loaded to much higher chamber pressures than standard .223 win. You can fire .223 from a weapon chambered to 5.56 but not the other way around. When you do fire .223 from a weapon like the M16 series, you loose a lot of lethality, and a lot of range. That and standard .223 does not have the steel penetrator. The stuff you see on cheaper than and it says 5.56 surplus, it is not surplus. It from boxes that have been broken open and issued out. Then at the end of the deployment, the spare rounds are turned back into the ASP, if the crate has been broken open, then it can not be issued out. SO they sell it as surplus.

Posted by: Matt at March 23, 2008 03:52 PM

megapotamus, Tungsten for 5.56x45 is only used in M855 lead free, and the M995 AP round. We do not use much lead free, and as a matter of fact I think the only time I have ever used lead free was in Okinawa because of their strict regulations on expending lead based ammo.

There have been very few instances where I have actually seen the black tip M995 because there is a major loss of lethality in flesh when compared to the M855 ball round.

Posted by: Matt at March 23, 2008 04:07 PM

I'm in law enforcement so I think I can talk about this with some authority. .223 ammo was hard to get for about a year and a half. Ammo makers at the SHOT show last year told me it was a combination of the war and China buying up raw materials. Prices have increased and in fact doubled for .223 and 9mm training ammo over the last 2 years, though they seem to be coming down some finally. Duty ammo has never been a problem (except in .223 though again that has eased). Something else to consider it that many officers have to buy their own practice ammo (and more than you would think their duty ammo) to stay proficent. They have to used (in many cases) civilian resources everyone else uses. Between that and agencies hoarding up I think that drove some of the shortages/price increases. The sad fact though is the days of $100 .223 practice ammo is LONG gone and will probably never return.

Posted by: Mike V. at March 24, 2008 01:42 PM