Politics & Policy

Why Is the Post Office Buying Bullets?


As if the U.S. Postal Service didn’t already have enough to worry about, it has now become the target of gun enthusiasts, who are accusing the agency of stockpiling ammunition as part of a broader government plot to deprive Americans of their liberties.

On April 14, Newsmax.com reported that the USPS was seeking to buy a large amount of ammunition on the heels of similar purchases by the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This alarmed some people whom Newsmax described as “second amendment advocates.”

One was Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “The problem is, all these agencies have their own SWAT teams, their own police departments, which is crazy,” he told the website. “Do we really need this? That was something our Founding Fathers did not like and we should all be concerned about.”

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it might be because last February, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security posted a solicitation to federal suppliers for a potential purchase of 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition. The agency said that agents in training fire a lot of bullets, and DHS gets a better price if it buys in bulk. That answer did not satisfy antigovernment conspiracy theorists. WND.com, a right-wing website, gave voice to speculation by talk radio hosts and others that the agency was preparing employees in case of an armed insurrection against the federal government. The charge circulated so widely that Republicans in the House of Representatives called for the U.S. Government Accountability Office  to study the matter. The GAO found that the DHS wasn’t girding for battle; its ammo purchases had declined since 2009.

The USPS’s bullet purchase is playing out in similar fashion. On April 17, agency spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the postal service had a good reason for buying ammunition: Its postal inspectors carry weapons and need bullets for firearms training. Here’s his whole statement:

“The U.S. Postal Service is not hoarding ammunition. The Postal Service Inspection Service is a law enforcement agency and its Inspectors carry firearms which require ammunition. Periodically, the Inspection Service must purchase ammunition for activities like firearms training, required annual firing range qualifications and for duty. As the Postal Service’s primary law enforcement arm, the Inspection Service is a highly specialized, professional organization which performs investigative and security functions essential to a stable and sound postal system and the security of the U.S. Mail. The Postal Inspection Service has a proud and successful record of fighting criminals who misuse postal services and products to defraud, endanger or otherwise threaten the American public.”

Such mundane explanations won’t persuade people who believe—or claim to believe—the government is secretly amassing a vast arsenal for a coming war against them. But there’s not much the postal service can do about that.

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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