by Dave Workman
Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats, have jumped into the middle of a renewed battle over destruction of once-fired military cartridge cases after reports circulated across the Internet that ATK had contracted with some military bases for what amounts to exclusive access to the cartridge brass.
The first report came from Montana gun rights activist Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association. He asserted that ATK had established “sweetheart deals” with military installations to destroy the brass, which is then recycled. It is not available for the civilian reloading market, and Marbut contends this runs counter to a congressional action last year spearheaded by the Montana senators, to prevent destruction of the brass.
In rebuttal, ATK issued a statement early in the debate, in which the company insisted that it supports the civilian shooting community, including handloaders. ATK is the parent company of Speer Bullets, CCI (which produces centerfire primers) and RCBS, the manufacturer of reloading presses, dies and accessories, as well as Alliant Powder, Federal Premium, and other brands for hunters and shooters.
“ATK is a strong supporter of our armed forces,” the company statement said, “the shooting sports industry, Second Amendment rights and all of our customers who choose to reload ammunition. In fact, ATK is a leader in the reloading market. The dated brochure and presentation have caused confusion in the marketplace and do not reflect the views of our company and will be immediately withdrawn. As a service to our military customers, we routinely handle demil operations for various munitions and respond to requests from military installations for reclamation and recycling of military items. Each contract is awarded through the military installation’s procurement process. The installations received fair value for the brass.
“ATK fully supports the provision passed by Congress last year to ensure that demilitarized spent brass casings remain available for civilian use.”
Marbut has been unrelenting in his criticism of the company, however, in Internet postings. He asserted that “many military installation commanders may not be in compliance with a congressional prohibition that no Congress-appropriated funds may be used to destroy brass.”
“This may be because DoD (Department of Defense) simply didn’t make the effort to inform installation commanders that Congress had prohibited destruction of brass,” he said in one posting.
Marbut referred to language in the 2009 Defense Department appropriation by Congress:
“None of the funds available to the Department of Defense may be used to demilitarize or dispose of M-1 Carbines, M-1 Garand rifles, M-14 rifles, .22 caliber rifles, .30 caliber rifles, or M-1911 pistols, or to demilitarize or destroy small arms ammunition or ammunition components that are not otherwise prohibited from commercial sale under Federal law, unless the small arms ammunition or ammunition components are certified by the Secretary of the Army or designee as unserviceable or unsafe for further use.”
In a letter to Vice Admiral Alan S. Thompson at the Defense Logistics Agency, Sens. Tester and Baucus wrote, “There is considerable demand for once-fired small arms cartridge cases in the civilian marketplace for ammunition reloading and other purposes. Thus, we are concerned about reports that certain military installations are diverting once-fired small arms cartridge cases away from the civilian marketplace.”
Both senators noted in their letter that “The domestic market for ammunition is highly sensitive to shortages of spent cartridge cases. Prohibiting the sale of once-fired small arms cartridge cases or diverting the once-fired small arms cartridge cases away from the open market would constrain the supply of ammunitionpreventing individual gun owners from fully exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Reloading ammunition also provides important economic activity for both individuals and businesses.”
Smaller companies that either use the surplus cartridge cases to produce remanufactured ammunition, or that clean and re-size the spent cases and sell them directly to reloaders contend that ATK has an essentially unfair advantage in the marketplace. One such company operatorspeaking on condition of anonymitycomplained to Gun Week that the arrangement ATK allegedly has with some base commanders gives the big company a monopoly on the brass.
Among Marbut’s complaints is the assertion that 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 US Treasury for reallocation by Congress, but into accounts controlled by installation commanders for installation operation.”
Baucus and Tester have asked Admiral Thompson to provide information on the number of and locations of military installations that have contracted with private entities for the sale of their once-fired small arms cartridge cases, and an assessment of whether these contracts are in compliance with current law. They also want to know whether the empty cartridge cases sold to private entities earn as much revenue as would otherwise be realized if the brass were put up for public bid through government liquidation.
They want an assurance that buyers will have an opportunity to purchase this fired brass.
The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) reported that in late March it had learned that quantities of once-fired small arms cartridge cases recovered from firing ranges on military bases were being sold for scrap.
NRA-ILA said it will continue working with members of Congress and the Pentagon to guarantee that the long-standing practice of making surplus military small arms cartridge cases available for reuse by reloaders continues in perpetuity.
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