Did Lake City Ammo Cancel its Commercial Contracts?

Rumors are once again flying around Independence, Missouri’s Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. Mid-October saw the supposed revelation that Lake City was canceling all its commercial contracts. If true, that would immediately cut roughly 30% of the 5.56 NATO ammunition supply from retail shelves. Prices would naturally skyrocket, likely kicking off panic buys, which would further elevate prices.

Lake City Army Ammunition Plant Logo

But Lake City AAP recently took to social media to deny the rumor. Lake City’s Facebook and X feeds posted that: “Joint Munitions Command has not changed its policy regarding commercial production at Lake City. Lake City has not canceled commercial contracts.”

That’s a big relief for us all, but the question now is “Where did the rumor come from?” And what’s more, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Let’s briefly look at that and talk about why the Lake City plant is so important.

Lake City Army Ammunition Plant

Lake City AAP is the world’s largest small arms ammunition manufacturing facility. It opened in 1941, producing more than 5.7 billion cartridges during World War II. It was closed in 1945 but reopened in 1950 for the Korean War. The plant has remained operational ever since. Lake City produced 14.4 billion cartridges for the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1973.

As the name implies, Lake City is owned by the US Department of Defense and is currently the DoD’s only active small arms ammo facility. DoD has historically taken bids from commercial ammo manufacturers to operate the plant under government contracts. Lake City is currently operated by Olin Winchester, as it has been since 1985.

Lake City Army Ammunition Plant
The Lake City Army Ammunition Plant is the world’s largest small arms ammunition manufacturing facility. (news.stlpublicradio.org)

Lake City meets all the government needs for 5.56 NATO and other cartridges. The plant’s capacity, however, exceeds normal Defense Department needs, and the government allows Winchester to sell the surplus 5.56 ammo commercially. Those sales offset Winchester’s costs and allow the plant to maintain high numbers of skilled workers. That last part is important since a national emergency requiring ramped-up production might not be able to wait for an expanded workforce to be hired and trained. The extra workers ensure Lake City’s readiness while benefiting civilian shooters and Winchester Ammunition.

Previous Rumors

June of 2022 saw the firearms community explode over reports that the Biden Administration had proposed banning surplus ammo sales from Lake City AAP. The concerns were similar to the recent scare, including sharply increased ammo prices. Another potential problem was Winchester’s inability to maintain the skilled workforce if those sales were halted. Such a policy could have endangered national security.

The story may or may not have been true. We still don’t know for certain. But 50 Members of Congress took it seriously enough that they sent a formal letter to the White House condemning the decision. Given the Biden Administration’s open hostility to civilian firearms ownership, especially firearms chambered for 5.56 NATO, such a story was, and is, believable. The outlet that broke the story, The Truth About Guns, revealed that Winchester itself confirmed it.

2022 White House Lake City Ammo Tweet
Was it true? We still don’t know.

A White House spokesman responded to TTAG on social media, saying “This story is not true. We will not let this plant close.” Never mind that TTAG had not alleged that the plant was closing. When TTAG called them out, the spokesman clarified, replying that the administration would not restrict civilian sales from Lake City.

Was the story true? Again, we don’t know for certain. Perhaps the White House did not anticipate the pushback and changed course. Or maybe the whole thing was a big nothing burger. But you know what they say about smoke and fire.

So, What’s Happening Now?

Fast forward to October 15, 2023. TTAG, among others, reported that Lake City was canceling all its commercial contracts. This, however, didn’t appear to be a political move. We all know how much equipment and supplies, including ammo, have flowed to Ukraine over the last year and a half. The US military has been warning the government about depleted stocks for months. The war in Israel and Gaza has amplified those shortages.

Sources speculated that Lake City’s contract cancellations were driven by the need to replenish American stocks while also supplying Ukrainian and Israeli needs. Concerns from the civilian market, however, were much the same. We all know what would happen if 30% of the 5.56 supply suddenly dried up. Coupled with the Administration’s recent ban on exporting firearms, ammo, and certain equipment, the firearms world was uneasy, to say the least.

But Lake City has seemingly quashed the story, saying unequivocally that commercial contracts have not been canceled. Speculation as to the rumor’s origin ranges from pranksters to deliberate disinformation. No one really knows. Or, if they do, they aren’t talking.

Lake City Army Ammunition Plant social media post
Lake City denies the current story.

But prices remain unstable thanks to current uncertainty, meaning they are rising. If Lake City’s sales continue with no interruption, things may smooth out. But there’s no doubt that military and foreign policy needs are straining manufacturing capacity. That capacity would be further tested by a civilian buying spree.

I wish I had better information to impart, but I don’t. If we hear something more concrete, we’ll let you know, but given past experience, that probably isn’t likely. For now, look to your ammo needs, but let’s try to avoid an all-out panic buy. That doesn’t help anyone, and it hurts us all, even the ones who can afford the price spikes.

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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