A factoid that jumps out of the bloody Aurora shooting spree is exactly how much ammo the alleged killer, James Holmes, bought online in the run-up to the killings.
Holmes purchased 3,000 rounds for his assault rifle, 3,000 more rounds for his Glock handguns, and 300 shotgun rounds, according to Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates.
The questions distill down to this: Would Holmes have been able to buy so much ammo if online sales were prohibited? Would he have been able to buy that much if he were required to make in-person purchases?
Details about the purchases have been withheld by the police. Did he buy all the ammo in a single order, or did he dribble out the buys over numerous orders and online retailers to avoid detection? That has not been disclosed. About all that is known is that Holmes apparently bought an assault vest, a few magazine holders, and a knife from a Website called Tactical Gear, according to documentation provided by that company. But it is the ammo that is provoking outrage -- not necessarily with a lot of justification.
Here is a fact: If you go to a gun range with a semi-automatic weapon, it is easy to fire off 100+ rounds in 10 minutes. I have done exactly that, and I would have shot a lot more if the ammo weren't so expensive. The ammo I shot cost maybe 30 cents per round.
Holmes' ammo buys are estimated by the New York Times to have cost $3,000. But to a gun enthusiast, such purchases are not especially noteworthy. An enthusiast at a target range easily fires off 500 rounds in an afternoon. "I call 6,000 rounds of ammunition running low," Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, told the NYT.
Still, right now, there is a frenzy of finger-pointing and loud yells for bans (or at least limits) on online ammunition purchases. But would such laws change anything at all?
"There's basically no regulation of online ammunition sales," Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in California, told the Wall Street Journal. The strong implication was that there should be. (But just FYI: The NYT reports that a 1999 attempt to pass a federal law banning online ammunition sales got nowhere.)
Online ammo vendors are numerous, with names like BulkAmmo.com and LuckyGunner.com. Brian Crane, co-owner of LuckyGunner, told the WSJ, "The idea that this shooting could have been stopped, or would not have taken place without the sales of ammunition on the Internet, is ludicrous."
LuckyGunner, incidentally, proclaims that it fully complies with local and state prohibitions. Its Website states:
Unfortunately, due to a combination of regulations and shipping constraints, we cannot ship to the following locations:
- New York City (we can ship to other areas in the state of NY, just not NYC)
- Chicago (we can ship to other areas in the state of IL, just not Chicago)
- Washington, DC
- All other international locations
That means that LuckyGunner ships to all locations in 45 states and most locations in two others. And Colorado is on the OK-to-ship list.
Would a flat-out federal ban on online ammo sales -- almost certainly not a passable bill, but let's imagine it happening -- have saved a single life in Aurora?
Nope. Holmes could just as easily have bought his ammo in Colorado gun stores. There do not appear to be any limits imposed on in-person purchases of ammunition in the state, and there are few Colorado restrictions on buying actual guns. Holmes apparently bought his weapons at "local metro gun shops," according to Chief Oates.
Ammo sales laws across the US are a crazyquilt, with a few jurisdictions requiring an ID (New Jersey is one, at least for handgun ammo), but the plain reality is that, in most of the nation,
all that is required to buy a box of ammunition, or a dozen boxes, is cash or a credit card.
Until that changes, what would be the point of limiting online sales?
— Robert McGarvey has been online and writing about the Internet for nearly 25 years.