The Federal Government and The Gun Culture

recently released study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office examined purchases and inventory controls of firearms, ammunition and other tactical equipment in the federal government.  The GAO looked at 20 federal law enforcement agencies, their expenditures on firearms, ammunition and tactical equipment over the fiscal years from 2010 to 2017.

In 2012, the Bureau of Justice reported that the federal government employed approximately 120,000 federal law enforcement officers (FLEO) in non-military agencies.  These officers have the authority to make arrests and carry firearms with the majority of them being law enforcement agents with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.  Law enforcement officers are also found in the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and, rather surprisingly, the Internal Revenue Service.  Government agencies that purchase firearms, ammunition and tactical equipment must report these purchases on a publicly available website, USASpending.gov.

Here are the 20 federal government agencies that have more than 250 FLEOs that are covered by the GAO report, their missions and the number of FLEOs that each agency employs:

It is important to note that, while the GAO released all of the data on the Health and Human Services, Internal Revenue Service and Transportation Security Administration to Congress, some of the data was deemed to be sensitive and, as such, has not been released to the general public in this report.  

Here are four examples of the firearms used by federal officers:

Here are examples of the tactical equipment used by federal officers:

In total, the 20 federal agencies reported the following spending on weapons between fiscal 2010 and 2017:

1.) Firearms – at least $38.8 million.  Eighteen agencies reporting the purchase of at least 44,551 firearms. The most firearms were purchased by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) with purchased at least 8,500 firearms.  Here is a breakdown of the types of firearms purchased by the 18 aforementioned agencies:

2.) Ammunition – at least $325.9 million.  Customs and Border Protection purchased $128 million worth of ammunition, the most among all 20 agencies. Sixteen agencies reported the total number of rounds that they purchased; over the period between 2010 and 2017, these 16 agencies purchased at least 767 million rounds of ammunition with Customs and Border Protection purchasing a total of 429 million rounds.  Here is a breakdown of the types of ammunition purchased by the 16 aforementioned agencies:

3.) Tactical Equipment – at least $1.14 billion.  Seventeen agencies reported the purchase of tactical equipment with Customs and Border Protection spending $609 million, the most among the 17 reporting agencies.  In total, Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, the DEA and the U.S. Marshals Service reported spending at least $755 million in manned aircraft.  Here is a breakdown of the types of tactical equipment purchased:

Here is a graphic breaking down the types of tactical equipment purchased by each of the 17 agencies that reported their data to the GAO:

While all of this data is interesting, it is noteworthy that some of the data on the USASpending.gov website does not match what was reported to the GAO.  For instance, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported spending $146,198,549 on ammunition through the USASpending.gov website and only $47,965,399 to the GAO, a difference of 205 percent.

In closing, let’s look at a particularly interesting part of the statistics reported by the GAO regarding the Internal Revenue Service and its firearms inventory:

Note that the IRS could not supply a great deal of information on firearms, ammunition and tactical equipment inventories and purchases because it was not retained in their system.  Try pulling that excuse when the Internal Revenue Service comes looking for your personal tax records!

With three of the twenty government departments supplying only partial information to the public, American taxpayers will not have a full sense of how much of their tax dollars are spent arming the federal government outside of the defense sector, however, as we can see from the GAO’s report, the government is most certainly not lacking when it comes to firearms, ammunition and tactical weapons that can be used to protect them from us.

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