With a federal ban on AR-15s currently off the table, blue state officials have decided instead to target the supply of the ammunition commonly fired by the rifle.
A coalition of 20 Democratic attorneys general, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.), sent a letter on Tuesday to the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention asking the office to investigate the commercial sale of ammunition manufactured by the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. The letter alleged that the plant’s 5.56 NATO rounds—a cartridge most often used in civilian AR-15s—have “become the ammunition of choice for use in mass shootings” and asked the White House to prohibit the sale of military ammunition to civilians moving forward.
“Military-grade weapons and ammunition do not belong in our homes or in our communities,” James said in a statement. “Ammunition made at Lake City has been used to kill American civilians in devastating recent mass shootings, including the Tops Supermarket massacre in Buffalo. The continued sale of this ammunition on the private market puts everyone at risk.”
The letter marks the latest foray against a familiar target for gun-control advocates. The U.S. Army-owned and Winchester-operated plant was previously rumored to be under scrutiny from the White House in 2022 for making its excess ammunition production available to the civilian market. The plant is the largest producer of small arms ammunition for the United States Armed Forces and is estimated to supply around 30 percent of the current civilian 5.56 NATO ammunition market. Shutting off its civilian production could increase ammunition costs for Americans and also limit its ability to quickly ramp up production during a military crisis.
The revived concern from gun-control advocates over ammunition from Lake City began with a November 2023 New York Times article documenting instances of ammo first produced at the plant being used in mass shootings and other violent crimes. That article prompted a letter from Democratic Congressman Robert Garcia (CA.) to the Secretary of the Army requesting oversight of the plant’s commercial production. Tuesday’s letter from the group of attorneys general is the first public attempt to push the Biden administration to once again reconsider allowing military surplus ammo to be sold to civilians.
The AGs’ letter cited the Times‘ reporting and decried the use of military funds to produce ammo for civilian sale.
“Compounding the horror, the bullets used in this violence were subsidized by American taxpayers, as the federal government has apparently invested more than $860 million to improve production,” the letter reads.
Gun-rights advocates denounced the letter and its attempt to restrict the civilian ammunition market. Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, called it “another attempt by gun-control advocates to chip away at the ability for law-abiding gun owners to exercise their Second Amendment rights.” He told The Reload the requested ammo sales ban “would be detrimental to military readiness.”
“It was the Defense Department’s idea that ammunition produced in excess of defense contracts should be allowed for sale to the civilian market so that profits made from those sales could fund the necessary maintenance of tools and a skilled labor force to be able to flex and meet the demands of the Defense Department during a time of war,” Oliva said.
He also disputed the letter’s claim that the military subsidizes civilian ammunition production.
“The sale of ammunition produced at Lake City reduces the cost to taxpayers because it ensures that the manufacturing capability remains ready to surge when needed and no extra tax dollars are required to replace idled equipment or rehire and retrain the skilled workers needed to ensure our military has the ammunition necessary to protect our nation,” he said.
The AGs asked the White House to launch an official investigation into the plant and called for an end to its long-running practice of supplying ammunition to the civilian market.
“In the short term, we ask your Office to investigate the contracting and manufacturing practices that led to so many billions of military-grade rounds being sold into our communities, and to issue a public report with recommendations about how to end the diversion of military ammunition into civilian hands,” the letter reads. “In the long term, we ask the White House to ensure that future production contracts prohibit the sale of military weapons and ammunition to civilians.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia also signed on to the letter. However, Democratic AGs in Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina, and Wisconsin did not join them. Neither did any of the Republican AGs throughout the country.