Fort Drum brass destruction threatens reloading supply and more

JANUARY 25, 2013

A report received yesterday by Gun Rights Examiner indicates at least one military installation is still destroying expended ammunition brass, despite a furor raised in the gun community a few years back that resulted in two senators intervening to stop the practice and allow for its resale for reloading. The Dec. 2012 Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan for Fort Drum, N.Y., marked “Revision 1,” describes its policy for brass and expended munitions as part of its installation recycling program, which includes rendering expended ammunition brass unsuitable for anything but scrap.

“Brass from expended ammunition/munitions is recycled,” the report advises. “Expended munitions must be free of any explosive hazard or residue and be crushed, shredded or otherwise destroyed prior to public sale.

“At Fort Drum, brass from expended ammunition is processed through a brass deformer machine located at the transfer station,” the description continues. “The deformed brass is purchased by a scrap metal vendor who reports the weighed amount to the QRP [Qualified Recycling Program] Manager. The proceeds from the sale of the scrap metal are deposited into the designated QRP account.”

This is a reversal of an understanding given to Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester after they wrote a letter expressing legal concerns to the Defense Logistics Agency in 2010.

“As you know, according to the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act … demilitarizing or disposing of small arms ammunition is prohibited, unless the small arms ammunition is certified by the Secretary of the Army or designee as unserviceable or unsafe for further use,” the letter advised. “The intent of the law is to ensure once-fired small arms cartridge cases are made available intact in the open market. We are concerned that certain installation contracts with private entities for the sale of once-fired small arms cartridge cases under the QRP may not be in compliance with this law.”

The controversy over destruction of brass under the Obama administration’s DoD was reported in this column in March, 2009, including, unsurprisingly, the observation that “Authorized Journalist” media was once again either oblivious or uninterested.

Shortly thereafter, Hofmann happily reported “A grassroots win for gun rights” citing an update from Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association reporting “I just received a phone call from the office of U.S. Senator Tester of Montana to inform me that … a letter cosigned by Senator Tester and Senator Baucus was faxed to the Department of Defense asking DoD to reverse its new policy requiring destruction of fired military cartridge brass … I am told, Tester's office received a fax back from DoD saying that the brass destruction policy IS reversed.”

Indeed, a March 17, 2009 email from Mark Cunningham with DLA’s Legislative Affairs advised “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 DRMS [Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service] sales contractor has been notified of this decision and has begun the process of reoffering the cases that had been held,” Cunningham reported.

Note this was over a full year before the Baucus/Tester letter linked above, which was prompted by reports that private contractor ATK/Alliant Tech Systems was cashing in on military scrap and shredding the casings “for sole purpose of recycling material and preventing any reloading of spent cases by the public with military grade brass."

As St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner Kurt Hofmann pointed out in a related report wherein he concluded shooters and taxpayers were being robbed:

With this enormous source of cheap cartridge brass now cut off, ammunition prices--already very high, due to other factors--would go still higher, making exercise of gun rights much more difficult.

Shooters among the private citizenry were not alone in being adversely affected--law enforcement agencies, already scrambling to obtain enough ammunition for training purposes, would now have to deal with both further decreased availability and further inflated prices.

Taxpayers got the shaft under this policy, because scrap brass loses about 75% of its value on the resale market, as compared to once-fired cartridge brass, suitable for reloading.

Now, with this latest revelation from Fort Drum, it would appear that issues thought resolved in 2009 and again a year later, must once more be revisited, and this time, representatives need to get involved and demand to know why, and whether this is due to faulty communications or orders from the top.

The need to be prudent with assets that ultimately belong to overburdened taxpayers, especially in today’s economy, should be self-evident. Stretching limited resources to the fullest is also of grave concern to top military commanders, who warn that budget concerns are a threat to readiness. Gun Rights Examiner has obtained a copy of a letter written on Jan. 14 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sent to Sen. Carl Levin of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, wherein they warn “We are on the brink of creating a hollow force due to an unprecedented convergence of budget conditions and legislation that could require the Department to retain more forces than requested while underfunding that force’s readiness.”

While the sale of expended brass would be a drop in the bucket, every little bit helps, and no opportunity to provide savings and maximize returns should be overlooked, particularly if the threat is as dire as the Joint Chiefs make things out to be.

Also of great concern – the shortage of ammunition that is flying off the shelves before it can be stocked, and the need for alternative sources such as reloading to help the supply catch up with a demand that currently results in skyrocketing prices, back-orders and purchase limits, not to mentioncompetition between shooters and police for what’s available.

Add to this another source of shortage: The Department of Homeland Security has bought up “more than 10 times what U.S. troops used in a full year of Iraqi combat," stoking fears that the government is preparing for some anticipated action. This is likely to provoke concerns among activist gun owners that the renewed brass destruction is intended for the purpose (articulated the last time this came up by ATK) of keeping it out of civilian hands while the government increases and hoards its stores as if its planning something big.

The Fort Drum report is the key to finding the answers to several pertinent questions:

Why are they destroying brass, reducing its value and making it useless for reloading? Is it because they never got the message from a few years back and don’t know any better, or did someone in authority order it?

If the latter, who? And why?

Why, under “Applicable Regulations,” does the Fort Drum program cite a host of federal regulations, executive orders, State of New York regulations and Department of Defense regulations, but omit any acknowledgement of the key regulation cited in the Baucus/Tester letter, namely the Department of Defense Appropriations Act and Public Law, prohibiting such destruction?

What are the repercussions for either dropping the ball on this, or worse, willfully ignoring and violating it?

How widespread is the destruction policy? Is it confined to Fort Drum or is this practice being conducted at other military installations? How many?

Again, who is authorizing/mandating it and why they are doing so become important questions to determine answers to.

Doing that is perhaps something best ferreted out by Congress in the bright light of public scrutiny, but chances are they won’t involve themselves unless they hear from concerned gun owners demanding that they do. The key there will be finding out if this is just a bureaucratic oversight resulting from failed communications, or if this is yet more “under the radar” executive maneuvering with the intent of further choking off already strained civilian market ammunition supply lines.

If that’s the case, what are the implications, and are they potentially much, much larger than the violation of a scrap-recycling edict, and demanding of hearings and subpoenas?

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