Easy access to ammo gets fresh scrutiny after Mpls. workplace rampage

  • Article by: MAYA RAO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2012 - 3:48 PM
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“If it just doesn’t seem right … we definitely would ask questions,” Jim Rauscher, owner of Joe’s Sporting Goods, said Tuesday.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Buy as much as you want.

That was the reaction to a request for 10,000 bullets at gun stores spanning Richfield to Robbinsdale.

The ease of stockpiling ammunition once again became apparent after police discovered that the perpetrator of one of the deadliest mass shootings in Minnesota history had packaging for 10,000 rounds of ammunition in his south Minneapolis home.

Last Thursday, Andrew J. Engeldinger had a Glock 9-millimeter handgun, two 15-round magazines and several loose rounds when he killed four co-workers, a UPS man and himself after being fired from Accent Signage Systems. In addition to the ammunition shipping boxes, police found a second Glock 9mm handgun in his house.

Authorities have not specified how Engeldinger purchased his ammunition, but Minneapolis police Sgt. Stephen McCarty said Engeldinger possibly ordered it online from an out-of-state dealer.

It might not matter: There are no limits on how much ammunition a person can buy for a handgun, beyond a requirement that they be 21. That's despite calls from some lawmakers to at least keep closer watch on big purchases following revelations that James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 58 others in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in July, had bought 6,000 rounds off the Internet.

But advocates of gun-owner rights say restricting or monitoring those purchases would be pointless, because possessing large amounts of ammunition is no indicator of malicious intent. They say gun enthusiasts often buy ammunition in large quantities to save money and to have enough for frequent trips to the shooting range.

The lack of scrutiny for ammunition sales was evident in visits to Gander Mountain in Eden Prairie, Joe's Sporting Goods in St. Paul, Bill's Gun Shop and Range in Robbinsdale, and Metro Pawn and Gun in Richfield.

At Gander Mountain, one of the best deals on ammo for a 9mm gun was a box of 350 rounds for $99.99. When asked for 30 boxes -- or 10,500 rounds -- a saleswoman checked with a manager and said that the store would sell the boxes at a discount for $89.99 a piece.

"As much as you want," a salesman at Metro Pawn and Gun said when asked how much ammunition could be purchased.

How about 10,000 rounds?

"Are you starting a war?" he joked, then said they could order it.

"You can buy the whole store if you want," a salesperson at Bill's Gun and Range replied when asked how much ammunition could be bought there.

Buying 10,000 rounds of the more expensive "personal defense" bullets -- which, unlike the target rounds, are hollowed and expand upon impact -- would cost $13,975, he said. Most people buying large quantities of ammo get the less-expensive target variety.

Bill's Gun and Range owner John Monson said Tuesday he's never seen a private citizen ask for 10,000 rounds -- more common are requests for one or two cases of 1,000 rounds -- but that he would sell it to them if they wanted it.

For some gun users, he said, ammo is "what shoes and purses are to women."

"We get addicted to them, and we like different ones, and variety. We kind of collect and hoard them."

Ten-thousand rounds of 9mm ammunition can cost just a few thousand dollars, and online suppliers offer a quick and inexpensive way to get it.

The site www.bulkammo. com advertises 4,000 rounds of .22 ammo by Federal for $189, with a notice that three boxes are ready to ship. The site also allowed a reporter to add 38 1,000-round boxes of 9mm ammo by Federal for $14,250 total to an online shopping cart before displaying a warning that more were not available.

The site says it does not ship to Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York City or Chicago, and requires documentation for shipping addresses in Illinois and New Jersey.

"When the tragedy happened in Aurora, that guy only had 6,000 rounds," U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who represents Minneapolis, said this week.

"This guy had 10,000 rounds. Clearly, there should be some sort of system in place to alert law enforcement authorities if somebody has some inordinate amount of ammunition or weaponry."

He said that notifying authorities about larger purchases of ammunition would allow police the opportunity to ask questions, even if they didn't lead to arrests.

"Maybe we would have been able to figure out that this guy is a ticking time bomb. ... Maybe it wouldn't have changed anything, but maybe it would have," said Ellison, who is talking with his staff about legislation for a notification system.

In response to the Colorado shooting, House Democrats over the summer also sponsored legislation limiting sales of online ammunition.

Andrew Rothman, vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, said it's not uncommon for people to make bulk purchases to guard against changes in gun laws and increases in ammunition prices in recent years.

"The shooter probably used 10 or 20 rounds of ammunition [in the attack] -- is it really relevant how many rounds he had at home?" Rothman said.

At Joe's Sporting Goods in Little Canada, owner Jim Rauscher said purchases of 10,000 rounds are not uncommon. For example, friends who shoot targets together pool their purchases to receive a discount: Someone might buy 10 1,000-round cases.

"If it's somebody that you've never seen before, not a regular customer, and it just doesn't seem right or smell right ... we definitely would ask questions," he said.

State Rep. Tony Cornish, who heads the House Public Safety Committee, scoffed at the idea of more closely regulating ammunition sales, saying that any such proposal would "fall with a big thud" in the Legislature.

He said many people buy thousands of rounds of ammunition at a time and never cause trouble.

The Republican from Good Thunder said he has 37 long guns and dozens of handguns.

"I probably have 10,000 rounds in my house," he said.

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

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