U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, has added his voice to the chorus of federal lawmakers raising questions with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over its purchase of 141,161 rounds of ammunition for high-powered rifles.
In a letter sent Tuesday, Shimkus asked Jeh Johnson, the department secretary, to answer a variety of questions concerning the cost of buying the Hornaday .308-caliber 168-grain A-MAX TAP ammunitions, as well as provide a breakdown of training and operational expenditures for that type of ammunition.
Shimkus wrote that his questions about the department's purchase of the rounds -- which some observers have noted can be used in sniper rifles -- were prompted by his constituents.
Such concerns arose in the past because of shortages of certain types of rifle ammunition in the civilian gun market, said Steve Tomaszewski, a Shimkus spokesman.
"It was brought to his attention again recently, and we found out about this new order and so he wrote the letter to try and find out exactly what they're using this for and how much they have stockpiled already and where it's going to go," Tomaszewski said.
Homeland Security's bullet purchases have been a matter of intense speculation over the past two years in the conservative and survivalist blogosphere. Conspiracy theories center on the idea that Homeland Security -- which oversees the federal government's largest law enforcement units -- is preparing for massive civil unrest and deliberately creating a bullet shortage as a backdoor method of gun control.
At least 19 members of the U.S. House and Senate have raised questions about Homeland Security's bullet purchases.
Last year, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., took the step last year of introducing the Ammunition Management for More Obtainability Act, or AMMO, which would force the Government Accountability Office to report on "strategic ammunition" hoarding by President Barack Obama's administration and prevent government bullet purchases that exceed those during the years when George W. Bush was president.
Homeland Security did not reply directly to Shimkus as of Friday. But a spokeswoman pointed out in an email to the News-Democrat that a government watchdog report released in January shows that the number of bullets bought by DHS since 2008 has remained "relatively steady, with DHS and its components purchasing ammunition from established contracts on an as-needed basis."
Tomaszewski said he did not expect Shimkus to receive an answer from Homeland Security for at least a week.
But the Government Accountability Office report "is at least an answer we can share with our constituents," Tomaszewski said. "I think the concern is still the types of ammunition and the expense of all this ... If there's a way to train at a lower cost than the actual ammunition, then that's something to look into."
Homeland Security, with 70,000 officers and agents, is the federal government's largest law enforcement branch. Its aegis covers the U.S. Coast Guard, the Secret Service and the U.S. Border Patrol, according to the report.
Despite similar GAO reports stating the lack of sinister intent behind Homeland Security's ammunition purchases, the speculation continues.
Paul Joseph Watson, a commentator for the website Infowars, has written that "DHS has faced questions over the last couple of years as to the purpose of its mass ammo purchases which have totaled over 2 billion bullets, with some fearing the federal agency is gearing up for civil unrest."
Watson wrote the majority of bullets purchased by the DHS were hollow point, which "just happen to be completely unsuitable for training purposes because they cost significantly more money compared to standard firing range bullets, contradicting claims by the DHS that the bullets were merely for training purposes and were bought in bulk to save money."
But the 2014 GAO report, which arose in response to questions by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., apparently rebutted Watson's contentions and satisfied Coburn.
The GAO "highlighted a number of positive safeguards DHS uses in its procurement practices such as strategic sourcing in order to secure the lowest prices for ammo," Coburn recently said. "I am pleased DHS has worked in good faith, and in a transparent manner, with both myself and the GAO."
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at email@example.com or 618-239-2533.