Mass shootings, mass sales
In June 2012, Colorado graduate student James E. Holmes ordered 1,500 rounds of Lake City ammunition from the website BulkAmmo.com, which offered discounts on boxes of 5.56. He had them delivered to a FedEx shipping center near his home.
The following month, Mr. Holmes burst into a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, brandishing an AR-15-style rifle loaded with ammunition and wearing an “urban assault vest” sold by an ATK subsidiary. . He killed 12 people and injured 70 others in what was the deadliest mass shooting to date with an AR-15-style weapon, according to a database maintained by the Violence Project. The tally includes shootings in a public place in which four or more people, not including the attacker, were killed.
Later that year, another man armed with an AR-15-style rifle killed 26 students, teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He didn’t use cartridges from Lake City, but the tragedy gave rise to a new push for gun reform — and a reflexive increase in ammunition sales.
In 2014, Lake City’s production reached a record high of nearly two billion rounds. Less than half went into the military, according to Army data. Much of the rest flowed onto the shelves of major retailers, helping drive a $300 million annual increase in ATK’s sales, according to earnings statements. Black Friday at Walmart and other stores has made preparations for the Thanksgiving holiday one of the plant’s busiest and most stressful times, according to two people familiar with its operations.
When ATK merged with aerospace company Orbital the following year, ATK’s sports division was spun off under the name Vista Outdoor. Led by Mr. DeYoung, Vista was awarded an exclusive three-year contract to sell Lake City’s commercial products.
Guns were a good business, Mr. DeYoung told investors, but as new customers were drawn into the market by first-person shooter video games, like Call of Duty, ammo was where was the real money.
“You go to the shooting range and watch people shoot,” he said, “and they shoot boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of shells in the fields of shot.”
Lake City played an important role in these new sales as demand for its products, once driven by the needs of war, increasingly followed events fueling the nation’s bitter debate over firearms.
Mr. DeYoung did not respond to requests for comment. Vista Outdoor released a statement attributed to Federal Cartridge, one of its many brands, saying it is proud of its ammunition production. “We are committed to complying with all applicable laws and strongly condemn any misuse of our products,” the statement said.
In early 2015, the national debate over guns first touched Lake City when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives moved to restrict the civilian availability of one of the products from the factory, a variety of 5.56 cartridges known as “green tips”. »
These rounds had been adopted by U.S. forces for their ability to pierce steel helmets and lightweight body armor over long distances, but by 2010 the military had begun replacing them with more lethal rounds that did not were not accessible to the general public.
The ATF announced it plans to limit the availability of green tips as part of a law intended to protect law enforcement officers. This set off a firestorm. The agency received more than 80,000 public comments opposing the idea as well as harsh criticism from the gun industry and members of Congress who said it violated the Second Amendment.
The ATF reversed course, and in less than a year, Lake City Green Tips was linked to the shootings of five police officers and a sheriff’s deputy.