To many, a particularly startling element of alleged gunman James Holmes' planning was the size of his ammunition stockpile: he had purchased more than 6,000 rounds for his assault rifle, pistols and shotgun. Ammunition, it turns out, is a fast-growing business in the U.S. As of May, there were 1,996 licensed ammunition manufacturers--up 27% from 1,567 in January 2010, according a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives database.
Obtaining the amount of ammunition that Holmes had is relatively easy if you have the money. Depending on the brand, 3,000 handgun rounds cost $630 to $1,770; 3,000 rounds of .223-caliber bullets for an assault rifle cost $1,100 to $1,350; and 350 rounds for a tactical shotgun will set you back a little over $300. In all, Holmes' ammo cache probably cost $2,030 to $3,420. Internet retailers--including prominent names like BulkAmmo.com and LuckyGunner.com--will ship cases of the rounds to purchasers via UPS or FedEx (mainly by ground, since shippers generally don't let live ammo on airplanes). All that is required is the proper hazardous-materials labeling as specified by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Some companies manufacture ammo from scratch, but a substantial portion of the industry sells recycled rounds--known as reloaded or remanufactured ammunition--which can be as much as 50% cheaper. Getting started in the business requires a $2,250 federal license, a reloading machine that costs $500 to $1,000 and a handy source of spent shells to be refilled. Sources of spent brass include local law-enforcement agencies and gun clubs, as well as the federal government, which uses a lot of ammunition and offers barrels of spent shells at surplus prices.
Technically, bullet refers only to the projectile at the tip of a round. The most popular bullet for the .223-caliber assault-rifle round is the 55-grain Full Metal Jacket, priced at about $40 for a set of 100.
A variation on black powder, smokeless powder contains different energetic components like a derivative of nitrocellulose (flash cotton). It can be shipped, with an extra fee for hazardous-materials handling.
Commonly referred to as brass, the shell casing houses the powder, primer and bullet and is ejected from the rifle once the bullet is fired. One hundred casings cost about $16, and they can be reloaded five to 10 times.
Ammunition manufacturers must obtain a Class 06 Federal Firearms License to manufacture ammunition as a business. A license costs $2,250 to initiate and to renew annually from the Department of State's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.
To save money, gun owners can buy reloaded ammunition that consists of a fresh bullet and powder inserted into a previously fired shell made primarily of brass. Shells can be reused anywhere from five to 10 times, depending on the type of ammunition.
Ammunition remanufacturers buy spent brass from ranges, shooting schools and government agencies. Some reloads are bought by individuals; others are purchased by heavy ammo users such as gun-safety schools and police departments.
BULK VS. TRUE BULK