Last year, the Social Security Administration put out a procurement request for 174,000 rounds of “.357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow point pistol ammunition,” prompting a few on the Internet to work themselves up into something of a frenzy. “It’s not outlandish,” claimed Paul Joseph Wilson, one of a team of professional paranoiacs on the Infowars website, “to suggest that the Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest.” “Something strange is going on,” harmonized Breitbart’s William Bigelow. Even Mark Levin was concerned. “I know why the government’s arming up,” he deduced. “It’s not because there’s going to be an insurrection; it’s because our society is unraveling.”
The Social Security Administration’s purchase was by no means an anomaly. A year earlier, the unlikely pair of the Department of Agriculture (320,000 rounds) and the National Weather Service (46,000 rounds) had both put out tenders for ammunition. And slightly less odd, but still staggering, were the FBI’s professed intention to purchase up to 100 million “hollow point” rounds and the Department of Homeland Security’s concurrent request for 450 million rounds. The Department of Education got in on the weapons-supplying spree, too, purchasing “27 Remington Brand Model 870 police 12-gauge shotguns.”
The first question: “Why?” The second: “Should we be worried?”
The appeal of this story is obvious, and that some citizens keep track of such things shows an admirable vigilance. But while a healthy suspicion of government serves these United States better than critics presume, facts remain the stubborn things that they always have been, and skepticism is no virtue at all when it proves impervious to reason. 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.
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.
Okay. And why does the USDA need 320,000 rounds? Because it runs the Forest Service, which covers “155 national forests” and “20 national grasslands” on a total of “193 million acres of land.” As well as agents in the field, the outfit has a law-enforcement unit based in Washington, D.C., whose responsibility it is to enforce federal laws and regulations. In context, those 320,000 rounds look a lot less threatening: If the U.S. Forest Service were to distribute ammunition at the same rate as the Social Security Administration, they would have enough for just 542 agents — not bad for an organization that covers an area the size of Pakistan (or twice the size of Japan or Germany).
It’s all about scale. Forty-six thousand rounds also sound like a lot for the National Weather Service. (Actually, the ammo was requested by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, which is overseen by the same department.) In reality, it’s not that much. The service has only 63 armed personnel, which brings the purchase out at around 730 rounds per officer. This, suffice it to say, does not present a great threat to the Republic. As the NRA has noted, “more than a few NRA members would use that much ammunition in a weekend shooting class or plinking session.” There are enough risks to the right to bear arms and to American liberty in general, the NRA continued, without “inventing threats.”