The Corner

The Ammunition Myth and Separating the True from the False

My piece today is on the Great Ammunition Myth, a popular fiction that holds that federal departments are stocking up on ammunition in order to take on American citizens. Put bluntly, it’s just not true and it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

However, as I observe toward the end, to conclude that there is no grand plot against the republic is not to conclude that all federal departments — especially those that have nothing to do with protecting citizens from threats domestic and foreign — should have paramilitary wings. The Department of Education may not be stocking up in order to take me out, but why are they stocking up at all?

Moreover, as a commenter notes:

Of more general concern is the overall militarization of police in this country. The blossoming of SWAT teams in even minor jurisdictions has been truly phenomenal over the last 20 years. Part of it is the easy availability of surplus equipment from the Department of Defense…Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs, read “tanks”), might be needed in rare instances — but does DHS really need nearly 3,000 of them? How many raids serving warrants on “dangerous” people do they really make in a year? How many late-night forced entries are made, that might be better handled by simply knocking on the door? How many end up at the wrong address?

Agreed. This is particularly worrying at the local level. As John Whitehead has written at the Huffington Post, “the American police force is not supposed to be a branch of the military, nor is it a private security force for the reigning political faction. It is an aggregation of the countless local civilian units that exist for a sole purpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community.” Nonetheless:

police departments aren’t just getting boots and medkits — they’re receiving assault rifles, mini-tanks, grenade launchers, and remote controlled robots…police in Cobb County, Ga., have an amphibious tank and Richland County, S.C., police have a machine-gun-equipped armored personnel carrier called “The Peacemaker” the likes of which had previously only been seen in war zones. The 50-person police department in Oxford, Ala., has acquired $2-3 million worth of equipment in recent years, including M-16s and remote-controlled robots. One popular piece of equipment, the BearCat, a “16,000-pound bulletproof truck equipped with battering rams, gun ports, tear-gas dispensers and radiation detectors” which costs $237,000, has been sold to over 500 local agencies. 

This is a serious concern. Still, that there exist very real threats to American liberty does not mean that everything is a threat to American liberty. Critics must take care to separate the true from the false, for the boy who cried wolf got himself eaten.


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