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Ammo Vending Machines in Grocery Stores?

Ammo vending machines installed in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas present new public safety risks

American Rounds, a Texas-based company, recently told Newsweek that it had installed ammo vending machines in grocery stores in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas — states with notoriously lax gun laws — with plans to expand to Colorado in the near future. According to American Rounds CEO Grant Magers, “We have over 200 store requests for [the vending machines] covering approximately nine states currently and that number is growing daily.”

The company’s website states that the vending machines use AI technology as well as “card scanning and facial recognition software to meticulously verify the identity and age of each buyer” and “comply with federal and local regulations.” But American Rounds also stresses the convenience: “Our automated ammo dispensers are accessible 24/7, ensuring that you can buy ammunition on your own schedule, free from the constraints of store hours and long lines.”

Easy Access to ammunition

While federal law requires gun manufacturers and dealers to become Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) and record transactions, among other obligations, the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, signed into law by President Reagan in May 1986, removed the licensing and recordkeeping requirements for ammunition dealers, making it easier for retailers to sell ammunition both online and at brick-and-mortar stores.

However, federal law still prohibits certain people, including those with felony convictions or are underage, from purchasing ammunition. FFLs cannot sell rifle or shotgun ammunition to anyone under 18 years old, or handgun ammunition to anyone under 21. It’s also illegal for non-FFLs to sell ammunition suitable only for use in a handgun to anyone they know or have reasonable cause to believe is under 18.

Yet a recent investigation uncovered that seven major online retailers did not appear to verify their customers’ ages, despite these requirements, and sold AR-15 ammunition that was delivered days later.

potential security problems

Time will tell how successful American Rounds’ ammo vending machines are in preventing sales to underage customers. But it’s also unclear how the dispensers prevent fugitives, those with felony convictions, and other “prohibited persons” from obtaining ammunition.

Gun groups — who have long railed against any perceived attempts at creating a firearms registry linking guns to individuals — might also be opposed to an ammunition retailer keeping data on customers, including identification and facial recognition information, and using AI. The National Rifle Association has even warned that AI may have an “anti-gun” bias.

A cybersecurity expert told Business Insider that American Rounds’ vending machines could also be hacked, allowing criminals to “exploit weaknesses in the facial recognition software to bypass security measures and purchase ammunition.” Further, “Errors in this technology could theoretically deny legitimate transactions or, more dangerously, permit illegal ones.”

For his part, CEO Grant Magers said that his company’s vending machines are the “safest, most secure method of purchasing ammo in the country” and noted the problem with online retailers: “It is easy for an underaged purchaser to go online and click they are of legal age, purchase ammunition, and have it shipped to their house.”

As Business Insider noted, a commenter on one of the company’s YouTube videos called the ammunition vending machines placed in grocery stores “deeply dystopian shit.”

And American Rounds has already had to relocate a vending machine from a grocery store in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after a city council meeting where people questioned its legality. According to Newsweek, “Tuscaloosa City Council President Kip Tyner said that he initially thought the machines were a joke after he received calls about them,” but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) confirmed they were legal.

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