Tom Fujan recycles expended Air Force small arms brass shells on Nov. 5, 2007. The machine renders the shells unusable and ready for sale.

In a recent article on this blog, Brad Kozak claimed that, in an effort to discourage gun ownership, President Obama directed the Department of Defense (DOD) to stop the sale of spent military casings to remanufacturers who produce civilian ammunition:

Then the Obama administration decided that it didn’t want to do anything that would encourage private citizens to own guns. They instituted a policy change that prevented the military from auctioning off their spent brass cartridges to remanufacturing companies.

Yes, this caused ammunition prices—which were already rising—to skyrocket. But is it proof of Obama’s anti-gun agenda? No.

The policy that Mr. Kozak refers to—which prevented the military from auctioning off spent brass cartridges—was drafted and developed starting in 2007 during the Bush Administration. This is the same administration that, in 2003, supported extending the ban on assault weapons (which ultimately expired in 2004). According to a press release from the Defense Logistics Agency, dated March 20, 2009,

During the past two years, DRMS, located in Battle Creek, Mich., revised its processes to further ensure only appropriate items were made available for public sale. To strengthen current controls and to mitigate future security risk, the DOD issued policy that prohibits the sale of military unique items controlled by the Department of State through its Munitions List.

Small arms cartridge cases are identified as a sensitive Munitions List item and were held pending review of the policy relating to the category of items in which cartridge cases were included. Upon review, the Defense Logistics Agency has determined the cartridge cases could be appropriately placed in a category of government property allowing for their release for sale.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) encompasses the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) whose mission is to “protect national security by ensuring property is properly identified for reutilization and disposition and not released for public sale when to do so would jeopardize national security.”

The National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action also issued a press release that affirmed the DLA’s stance and added,

DLA also put to rest various theories and rumors that were circulated on the internet, concerning the reason for the suspension.

It is not unreasonable that the DOD would classify these military-grade casings as potentially harmful to national security.

I acquired a draft of the policy (.doc) dated June 11, 2008, and it includes a comment affirming the inclusion of the following requirement:

Title 10 U.S.C. §2577 authorizes the sale of recyclable materials and the deposit of proceeds into the installation QRP [Qualified Recycling Program]. Regulations at Title 32, Code of Federal Regulations §172.2(b)(3)(ii), prohibit recycling of items that must undergo demilitarization or mutilation before sale. One of the authorized recyclable items through the QRP is “small arms fired brass” provided they are mutilated.

[Remember that QRP mention; it will crop up when I discuss ATK’s handling of spent casings in my editorial on the ammo shortage.]

It has long been the policy of the DOD to demilitarize certain military weapons and military-grade ammunition. The policy in question simply reclassified spent small arms ammunition under the DEMIL “B” standard requiring that materiel be demilitarized through mutilation (crushing, shredding, melting, etc.).

The policy reversal reclassified spent small arms ammunition out of DEMIL “B” into a category that allows their sale “as is.” As previously required (before the Obama administration came into power), buyers who purchase these spent casings must be approved by the DOD under Trade Security Controls.

Democratic Senators Baucus and Tester reacted swiftly to protests from gun owners across the nation and demanded that the DOD reverse the policy, which they did less than one month after it was implemented.

To claim that the policy was instituted at the behest of Obama is not truthful. As of March 2009, this policy was two years in the making, according to the DLA. After hours of research on this topic, it is clear to me that Department of Defense policies, directives and instructions take years to draft, develop, revise and implement.

This brouhaha erupted into a conspiracy theory thanks to blogs like The Shootist, which posted,

“Now it has come clear…now we know what they intend to do.

It is an end-run around Congress. They don’t need to try to ban guns–they don’t need to fight a massive battle to attempt gun registration, or limit “assault” weapon sales.

Nope. All they have to do is limit the amount of ammunition available to the civilian market, and when bullets dry up, guns will be useless.

Even Snopes.com debunked the claim that this policy was the result of machinations of the Obama Administration.

As for the shortage of ammo, I’m working on a piece that addresses the causes, and I will post it in April; but here’s a preview: demand outstrips supply; and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2 Responses to Counterpoint: Obama Did Not Cause Ban on the Sale of Spent Brass

  1. Jeff:

    There are two sides to every story. I have NEVER made a claim that the Obama administration is alone in their desire or plans to limit the sale of firearms or to curtail American's 2nd Amendment rights. If you'll go back and read my previous posts, I've made it clear that I believe there is plenty of blame to go around, Democrat and Republican alike.

    While you raise some interesting points – some valid – you are being somewhat disingenuous (okay…a LOT disingenuous) in the way you present information, and the sources you cite. For instance, while Snopes.com has acquired a reputation as a source for debunking rumors and falsehoods, they are far from unbiased – and have admitted as such in print.

    While the DOD may move at a glacier pace, the Executive Branch does not necessarily share their same pace. The DOD works for the Executive branch, no matter who may be in charge. To assume that their actions, no matter how long they've been in the planning stages, are not overseen, orchestrated, and unconnected to the goals, plans, and objectives of the Obama administration is naive at best, and disingenuous at worst.

    You completely failed to address one of the main points of my post – that ATK has cut "sweetheart deals" with base commanders that prevent taxpayers from getting any return on their investment. That's just wrong. The simple solution, should these spent cartridges really be a threat to national security (sounds pretty bogus to me, but I'll give you this one because bureaucracies can be pretty dense), would be to crush or otherwise ding the cartridges, rendering them to scrap, BUT THEN AUCTION THEM FOR SCRAP BRASS.

    The critical issue here is that spent brass is worth more (for remanufacturing) than the value of the brass for scrap. I think that unless the government can prove that these spent cartridges present a serious danger to our military if resold, then they need to sell them for remanufacture and get the money to the U.S. Treasury to help pay down some of the war debt. I don't think this is too hard to understand. In a time where the Obama administration is adding to the national debt every minute, it would be refreshing to see them do something that would help – rather than hurt – the country's bottom line. I'd say the same thing about the Bush administration, were they still in charge.

    In my post "Why is Ammunition So Expensive," I blamed not only supply and demand (from both our military and from China) but also the policies of both the Bush and Obama administrations as well as the reactions of people to Obama's election (and his perceived anti-gun positions), as well as the reactions of manufacturers and their supply chains. I'd welcome your opinions on this issue, but to imply that I have somehow made ad hominem attacks on Obama and have not cited Bush and what I consider his failings as well is simply…well…false.

  2. At the end of my post, I stated that it's my plan to address the supposed ATK sweetheart deals in April. I'm bogged down with a large project until April 3rd.

    This post was only in response to the claim of yours I addressed; I don't have time at the moment to address each of your claims.

    I appreciate that you think Snopes is biased; I think the same of AmmoLand, but if you read the former's investigation, it says pretty much what I wrote in the post regarding the policy's creation. They also cite the NRA-ILA. Just how exactly are they biased?

    If you truly believe that the White House reviews every single policy, instruction and directive that the DOD and all of the other alphabet agencies issue, then please don't call *me* naive.

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