If you, like thousands of other Americans, have Googled to find out why we are in the middle of a nationwide ammunition shortage, you would have stumbled across this 2007 blog entry.
In it, I corrected a poorly researched Associated Press story by Estes Thompson that claimed the military’s consumption of ammunition was responsible for police ammunition shortages here in the United States. Few things could have been further from the truth, but it seems rather apparent, in retrospect, that the goal of that AP article wasn’t to find the truth as much as it was to (falsely) lay blame for the police ammunition shortages at the feet of George W. Bush.
The real fact of the matter is that the military got the bulk of its small arms (pistol, rifle, machine gun) ammunition from one contracted ammunition plant, and that plant wasn’t even running near capacity. The military’s consumption clearly wasn’t to blame, and anecdotal evidence and statements from ammunition manufacturers strongly suggested that police departments themselves caused the 2007 ammunition shortage by purchasing far more ammunition than they had in the past.
But what is causing our current ammunition shortages here in 2009?
Much of the demand comes from continued high law enforcement demand, the same demand that led to shortages two years ago. Police agencies around the nation have become more militarized in recent years and two trends within this militarization have led to greater police ammunition demand.
An increase in the size and number of paramilitary police units
Once upon a time, highly trained, heavily armed police units with alphabet-soup acronyms such as SWAT, SRT, SRU, or ERT were generally found as part of large, metropolitan police departments. Today, law enforcement agencies of every size — including some university police forces — have SWAT-type units armed with some combination of submachine guns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles to add to the traditional compliment of pistols and shotguns. To become proficient to the level expected of these units, each officer must fire thousands of rounds in training every year.
An increase in the use of “patrol carbines” in law enforcement
Some agencies prefer to call them “patrol carbines”; others refer to them as “tactical rifles.” But whatever you call them, rifles based upon the AR-15 are becoming increasingly common as a weapon deployed to police officers outside of SWAT units, for some very logical reasons. AR-type rifles extend the range at which patrol officers can engage armed criminals, and because rifles have more practical accuracy than pistols, they can potentially reduce the number of shots fired to neutralize a suspect. Paired with the right kind of ammunition, the .223 Remington/5.56mm caliber rifle also has surprisingly less over-penetration, theoretically reducing threats to civilians who might be downrange. Each of these weapons will also require officers carrying them to fire hundreds of rounds in training each year, and in a city that rotates rifles from one shift to another among their patrol units, this can necessitate tens of thousands of rounds of training ammunition.