We have been getting plenty of e-mail about purchases and contracts for ammunition by government agencies, which seem to have prompted a run on ammunition by private consumers and the shortages that these runs usually entail.  The e-mails usually express concern over the supposedly massive amounts of ammunition being stockpiled and the threat to American liberty that it represents.  At National Review — not exactly a shill for Barack Obama — editor Charles C. W. Cooke looks at the actual numbers and debunks the conspiracy theories:

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 theHuffington 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.”

Cooke also explores the more significant contracts of over 500 million rounds combined for the FBI and DHS, both obviously law-enforcement agencies, which have been the subject of other e-mails.  The DHS contract runs for five years, Cooke explains, and doesn’t require DHS to make the purchases.  It’s a pricing-contingency arrangement, one that makes a lot of sense for cost stability and control, that reserves as much as 450 million rounds over the period of the contract.

We get a lot of e-mail with various doomsday scenarios built on conjecture, and we don’t address most of them for the simple reason that we’d rather focus on actual issues. This particular meme has built up some staying power, however, and Cooke’s column should get wide distribution in order to set minds at rest and put them to more productive use.  And Cooke has a suggestion where we can start:

Questions do still abound: Whether it is in possession of one bullet or 1 million bullets, should the federal Department of Education be armed in the first place? If so, why? Should its OIG be investigating external fraud rather than handing it over to the police or the DOJ or the FBI? For those federal departments that play no role in combating domestic and foreign threats — such as the DoE — what would constitute a threat requiring armed confrontation with malefactors?

Read this all the way through to see what happens when organizations without a criminal law-enforcement mission try to go it alone; it doesn’t end well.  Shouldn’t agencies like the DoE work through the FBI or US Marshals in order to enforce the law?  This seems like a ripe area for reform and consolidation within the federal government, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we couldn’t wring out some significant savings by eliminating duplication in law enforcement.

Update: Patriot Perspective addressed this a year ago, and has more thoughts today.