Earlier this month, rumors circulated that the Biden Administration had sought to restrict the availability of certain types of ammunition produced at the U.S. Army’s Lake City Army Ammunition Plant from being sold on the civilian market. The ammo in question is none other than popular types for AR-15 rifles.
The U.S. government-owned, contractor-operated facility in northeastern Independence, Missouri was established by Remington Arms in 1941 to manufacture and test small-caliber ammunition for the U.S. Army. Since October 2020, the facility has been run by Winchester Ammunition, which is a fully owned subsidiary of the Olin Corporation. Under its contract with the Department of Defense (DoD), the operator is allowed to sell M855 and SS109 ammunition that is “produced in excess of the military’s needs on the civilian market.”
According to a report from The Truth About Guns blog from June 15, a source who had knowledge of the matter said that Winchester Ammunition was told it would no longer be able to sell the surplus ammunition to civilians. It was further reported that the rationale was to curtail the supplies of commercially-available ammunition and to drive up prices. The site further suggested it was a goal of the White House to “make shooting most AR-15 rifles as expensive as possible” for Americans.
Plant Not Closing?
On Tuesday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates disputed that such an order was given to Winchester Ammunition, and in a tweet stated, “This story isn’t true. We will not let this plant close.”
What is curious about Bates’ comment is that he only stated that the plant wouldn’t close – and of course, it couldn’t.
It is literally there to produce ammunition for the U.S. military. Closing it wasn’t the point; rather it was if the surplus of ammunition produced at the plant could be sold on the civilian market.
The Truth About Guns’ reported that the plant produced up to 30 percent of the commercial market’s sales volume of the popular .223/5.56 ammunition – although that figure has not been independently verified.
It was only a day later that Bates added, “The administration is not going to restrict production/sales of excess ammunition currently available for sale to the public (including M855 and SS109) at Lake City Army Ammunition Plant.”
However, many on Twitter pondered what was meant exactly by “currently available for sale.”
AR-15 Ammo Shortage Coming Soon? The Industry Takes Note
Despite the White House’s strange denial, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry’s trade association, has also gone on the record.
“Winchester was informed that the government is considering restricting the manufacturing and commercial sale of legal ammunition produced at the Lake City, Mo., facility,” Mark Oliva, NSSF spokesman, told The Federalist on Wednesday.
It is also unclear if the NSSF spoke with Winchester, but given its role within the industry, it would be safe to assume that the trade association wasn’t spreading unsubstantiated rumors.
Lawmakers Take Notice
On Tuesday, roughly 50 House Republicans collectively responded to the claims and reached out to the White House regarding the proposed restriction of ammunition on the civilian market. In a joint letter, the lawmakers urged President Joe Biden against such a proposal, citing that it could cost jobs at the plant.
“Having the ability to produce this product for commercial sale allows the operating contractor to maintain capacity and keep the facility at a high state of readiness, at no cost to the government. This ensures the Army is ready to ramp up production in the event of a national emergency,” the letter read.
“Not only will this decision have significant negative consequences for the workforce at the facility, but it will compromise Army readiness by further delaying the deployment of the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW),” the lawmakers continued. “Specifically, this decision will result in the immediate termination of up to 500 highly skilled employees and undermine the facility’s ability to hire and retain the skilled workforce needed to carry out the contract with the Department of Defense.”
The House Republicans further suggested that this would be a burden for taxpaying Americans who are already facing high inflation, as it would increase the cost of ammunition.
“Additionally, the decision will exacerbate an already serious shortage of ammunition in the commercial market currently facing law-abiding gun owners,” the letter noted, while also stressing the popularity of the cartridge with civilians.
Yet, perhaps that is the point all along. As The Truth About Guns reported, this could simply be a way to make shooting the AR-15 as expensive as possible.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.