A huge purchase of bullets by the Department of Homeland Security is giving conspiracy theorists fresh ammunition.
In February, The Associated Press reported that DHS wanted to buy some 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next few years. While the department contends the purchase and other similar buys are standard procedure, the timing of that report, coming amid a then-raging gun debate in Washington, led some to fret that the government was stockpiling ammo for possibly nefarious purposes.
Conspiracy theorists questioned why the government would ever need so much ammo. Were the feds simply wasting taxpayer funds? Or, perhaps, amassing a secret army? Alex Jones' InfoWars led the charge on this front, running articles with headlines like the not-so-subtle "Homeland Security Buys Enough Ammo for a 7-Year War Against the American People."
"This ammunition is purchased for the sole purpose of being used in active fighting. At the same time, it is a violation of the Geneva Convention to use hollow point ammunition on the battle field," that post read. "This is crucial to understand. It means the occupying federal government is acquiring this ammunition to be used against the American people."
Yet what began as a fringe conspiracy theory has gained momentum over the past two months, finally making it all the way to Congress.
The conspiracies popped up on more mainstream Republican-leaning outlets like Fox News and the Daily Caller, albeit typically in a less alarmist vein. Then last week, two Republican lawmakers, Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Jason Chaffetz (Utah), lent the conspiracies more credibility, holding a joint hearing to demand answers. And though he stopped short of fully embracing the "secret army" theory, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said in a separate hearing that the rampant theorizing had reached a point where "the numbers cease to become internet rumors and they start having some credibility."
Other lawmakers posited a slightly different theory: The government, uncertain whether new gun laws would prevail in Congress, had authorized the purchases to remove ammo from shelves. If the government couldn't take away guns, it would just take away ammo instead, the theory went.
In response, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress last week that would place limits on DHS' ammo-buying capacity.
"President Obama has been adamant about curbing law-abiding Americans' access and opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights," said Inhofe. "One way the Obama administration is able to do this is by limiting what's available in the market with federal agencies purchasing unnecessary stockpiles of ammunition."
Called the Ammunition Management for More Obtainability Act of 2013 (AMMO), the legislation would require the government to report on its ammo reserves, and prevent it from making additional purchases past a certain threshold.
On Monday, Inhofe reiterated his concern in a radio interview with Laura Ingraham.
"We just denied everything that this president and the vice president are trying to do," he said. "So what are they going to do if they want to, if they want to violate our Second Amendment rights? Do it with ammo."
Homeland Security has more or less laughed off the suggestions. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the department "found it so inherently unbelievable that those statements would be made it was hard to ascribe credibility to them."
Moreover, the government has been purchasing ammo for years, and this falls in line with its past expenditures. When the ammo inquiries first began, a Homeland Security spokesperson noted in a statement that "DHS routinely establishes strategic sourcing contracts" for things like ammo and computer equipment, because the agency can secure much lower prices by buying in bulk.
As Raw Story's Megan Carpentier notes, the department trains thousands of law enforcement personnel across many agencies and levels of government, so it needs a large ammo repository. According to the DHS, 80 percent of the ammunition it purchases goes to training.
Even the NRA has distanced itself from such conspiracy claims, saying last August that such rumors were no more than "an effort to stir up fear about recent acquisitions of ammunition."
"As most gun owners will agree, skepticism of government is healthy," the group concluded. "But today, there are more than enough actual threats to the Second Amendment to keep gun owners busy."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How a degree from Duke University dashed my dreams of buying a home
- Half the world's population lives in these 6 countries
- This is why you can't trust the NSA. Ever.
- Four annoying sounds you need to stop making
- The best online movies to watch this weekend
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- 10 things you need to know today: August 23, 2014
- What Keeping Up with the Kardashians can teach America about interracial marriage
- Innocent before proven guilty? The bizarre bipartisan rush to clear Rick Perry
- What the 'death of the library' means for the future of books
Subscribe to the Week