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How an Army Ammo Plant Armed Mass Shooters

A new analysis shows that the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant produced AR-15 rounds used in a dozen mass shootings

A new report from The New York Times has exposed the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, a government-owned, contractor-operated facility that produces ammunition for the U.S. military, as manufacturing some of the ammunition used in at least 12 major mass shootings involving AR-15s, including in Las Vegas and Parkland.

The Lake City facility is required to keep its production capacity at around 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition per year — a parameter set by U.S. Army officials in 2009 — but the contractor running the facility is currently permitted to sell any surplus ammunition that the military doesn’t use to civilians. The new report, based on a review of annual reports, earnings call transcripts, government documents, and interviews with more than 40 former employees, suggests that by 2021, the facility’s commercial ammunition production more than doubled its military production, accounting for hundreds of millions of rounds of civilian ammunition in a given year.

The type of ammunition is important, as Lake City produces a significant amount of ammunition available for civilian AR-platform weapons, including .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO rounds for AR-15s and larger 7.62mm NATO rounds for AR-10s. The ammunition is made on military machinery to military specifications, yet it’s available from numerous retailers for civilians.

According to The New York Times, spent casings and ammunition from Lake City been recovered at several major crime scenes across the U.S. and at least a dozen mass shootings, including:

  1. Aurora (2012)
  2. San Bernardino (2015)
  3. Las Vegas (2017)
  4. Sutherland Springs (2017) 
  5. Parkland (2018)
  6. Pittsburgh (2018)
  7. Midland-Odessa (2019)
  8. Indianapolis (2021)
  9. Denver (2021)
  10. Buffalo (2022)
  11. Uvalde (2022)
  12. Colorado Springs (2022)

In his manifesto, the Buffalo shooter specifically mentioned Lake City’s military-grade M855 5.56mm NATO ammunition, calling it “the best barrier penetration ammo I can get.” Notably, the Obama administration tried to restrict sales of M855 ammunition — known as “green-tip” rounds — to civilians because of their barrier-penetrating capabilities in 2015, but pressure from the gun industry and members of Congress forced the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to back away from the idea.

Last year, Larry Keane, the executive vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s trade association, claimed that Lake City is responsible for “over 30 percent of the ammunition used on AR-15 style rifles” in civilian hands. It’s unclear how Keane obtained his estimate; the Department of Defense and ATF have not provided any data in this regard.

Olin Winchester took over the Lake City plant, which sits on 3,935 acres of land and has 375 buildings, in October 2020 after winning a $28 million contract. Previous contractors include Alliant Techsystems (ATK), which spun off its ammunition business into Vista Outdoor, and Remington. The facility first began production in 1941 to help support American forces during World War II.

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