by Gary Marbut, President, Montana Shooting Sports Association
The cure that was arranged by Montana Senators Baucus and Tester to fix the intended military destruction of once-fired cartridge brass last year appears to be suffering from a fatal end-run.
Interested persons will remember that a year ago, helpful intervention by Montana’s senators persuaded the Department of Defense to rescind a fresh DoD directive to military installation commanders requiring them to destroy once-fired brass, prior to selling it at auction into the civilian marketplace for ammunition reloading and other purposes.
An end-run is being done around the rescinding order through quiet and sweetheart side deals with installation commanders that is being aggressively promoted by ATK.
Some characters must be introduced to explain this story. ATK/Alliant Techsystems is the defense contractor that currently has the contract to operate the Army’s huge Lake City Arsenal, the last government-owned facility in the U.S. for production of small arms military ammunition. While other contracts to operate Lake City have been cost-plus, the contract ATK arranged allows ATK to retain profits of operation. Although government/private partnerships always seem to be strange creatures, the nature of the government/ATK partnership may be stranger than most.
Government Liquidation is another private entity that has an exclusive government franchise to sell surplus military equipment, from all military installations nationwide, to all bidders.
Until recently, most used cartridge brass sales were put up for public bid through Government Liquidations, bids available to scrap metal purchasers, foundries processing brass, and specialized cartridge brass processors that reconditioned millions of surplus cartridge brass for sale to commercial reloaders of civilian ammunition, and to civilians for ammunition loading. The steady supply of reloadable brass from military sources has been a sizable and essential component of the currently stressed ammunition market in the U.S.
Although the private Government Liquidations retains a fee for the auction services it provides, the bulk of income from Government Liquidations’ sales of surplus military property is directed into the U.S. Treasury, to be reallocated and appropriated by Congress, as needed.
In a recent turn, ATK has been aggressively promoting sweetheart side deals with military installation commanders for those commanders to sell used cartridge brass directly to ATK (which ATK then renders unsuitable for reloading), the income from which is deposited, NOT into the U.S. Treasury for reallocation by Congress, but into accounts controlled by installation commanders for installation operation.
ATK even provides portable equipment to demil tons of cartridge cases at the military installations, destroying the brass for reloading purposes. Because the destroyed cartridge case brass is not suitable for reloading, it cannot command a price driven by auction for the highest-value use of reloading. Military installation commanders sell the Alliant-destroyed brass to ATK at a private, non-auction, special price. Commanders are willing to accept the reduced price because the sale proceeds go to the commanders’ discretionary accounts and not back to the U.S. Treasury via Government Liquidations.
Quote from ATK program sales literature:
“Payment is made to Fort Irwin not DRMO [now Government Liquidations], so Fort Irwin utilizes the money that is generated from the Recycle project for other recycling efforts.”
ATK, then, ships this destroyed cartridge brass to the foundries from which ATK gets new stock for manufacturing new cartridge cases, offsetting in significant part what ATK would otherwise pay the foundries, and thereby increasing ATK’s profit from operating the Lake City Arsenal.
Government Liquidations suffers a substantial decrease in business since fired military brass has long been a most lucrative product they’ve traditionally handled.
Meanwhile, the big losers are the U.S. Treasury (U.S. taxpayers), and civilian ammunition consumers who will see higher prices and more shortages in the ammunition marketplace from this scheme. U.S. gun owners are effectively being taxed by this scheme to provide greater profits for ATK.
There is one additional motive at work here. In part, this juicy scheme is being sold to military installation commanders with the reasoning that “We cannot allow this reloaded ammunition to fall into the hands of militias.” The sell-direct-to-ATK idea is being sold to installation commanders as a way to deprive imagined U.S. civilian enemies of firepower.
Quotes from ATK program sales literature:
“Currently handling brass scrap for ATK Lake City — for sole purpose of recycling material and preventing any reloading of spent cases by the public with military grade brass.”
“Keeps Military Grade Brass from being re-loaded by unauthorized users.”
“To PREVENT anyone from using your scrap ammunition components for non-military purposes.” (Emphasis in the original)
“Assurability for the [military] installation, that no one can use this cartridge against law enforcement or our military personnel, by reloading the case.”
It’s time to cure this problem finally with congressional action. The Montana congressional delegation is spooling up to address this issue. Senators and Representatives from other states need to join the Montana delegation in fixing this problem finally with congressional direction to DoD to require that all expended military brass of civilian-useable calibers generated domestically goes through the public auction process. This will benefit the U.S. Treasury, America’s gun owners, and the adequacy of the ammunition marketplace.