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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

RE: Federal government ammo hording
By Mike Harpold


March 30, 2013
Saturday AM

Al, for once I agree with Don Young; given training requirements, 590 rounds per officer is pretty reasonable. As you know, I am retired after a 35-year federal law enforcement career, and my wife is still on the job with DHS's Office of Customs and Border Protection. She has to qualify with her firearm on a quarterly basis.

A standard course of fire requires 30 rounds, and is generally preceded by one or more practice courses. Include in the proration the ammo expended on the range at the federal training academy, usually twice a week for a trainee over a typical 16-week cycle and that s about what it comes out to.

There are lots of reasons for training with jacketed hollow-points, the ammo carried on duty, rather than ball ammo, or the wad cutters we used back in the day -- for me that was fifty years and eighty pounds ago. (1962-1968) Our service weapon in the U.S. Border Patrol at the time was a heavy-barrel S&W .38 Special, and we were issued ball ammo. The regulation round notoriously wouldn't stop a man, so unofficially we loaded 110 grain wad cutters instead. The flat-front, soft-lead bullet splattered when it hit and could inflict a lethal wound.

That practice stopped when a smuggler who had been wounded with a wad cutter sued. His attorney argued that if his client was going to be shot, he had a right to be hit by an official U.S. Border Patrol bullet, and he won a large settlement! The officer testified he had been practicing with wad cutters and simply forgot to reload with ball ammo. That was in the mid 60's, and the Border Patrol thereafter changed to the S&W .357 magnum and jacketed hollow points.

To make sure officers didn't forget again, and believing we should train only with the ammo the agency intended us to use there is a significant difference between firing a wad cutter and a .357 round the Border Patrol stopped using the wad cutter for training.

We lost control of the border after 1965, and things are different these days. Businesses demand ever cheaper workers and many don't care who they are or how they get here. Our own citizens use illegal drugs and don't care what the impact is on our own country or Mexico. As a law and order guy, Al, I d think you d be mad about that and not so much about the ammo the men and women we hire to deal with those problems use for training.

The Border Patrol today is a force of over 23,000 officers there were only 1,400 of us for the entire U.S. in my day -- and they are backed up by billions of dollars of border fencing, electronic gear and aircraft. Border Patrol officers carry automatics and a variety of semi-automatic long guns I wouldn t even recognize let alone know how to fire. The agency worries so much about the potential misuse of ammunition that a supervisor actually counts the number of rounds carried by each officer at the beginning and the end of each shift. A Border Patrol Agent is involved in a shootout somewhere along the border every single day of the year, and 26 officers have lost their lives in the line of duty in the past decade alone.

As an aside since you've got me reminiscing, yes, Al, I agree there must be some profligacy somewhere. After all, boys will be boys. In my time, each officer was issued two boxes of wad cutters a month, enough to swap off to state and local officers for liaison. But a lot of the ammo got used while working alone on long days and nights in the desert. I shot every rattlesnake I saw, so many that the population of kangaroo rats, birds and jack rabbits along the border forty miles on either side of Calexico, California actually increased! Had there been an EPA at the time, I would have been charged with violating the Clean Air Act because of all the lead I put into the atmosphere.

I don't know how to make that right Al, but since you were a taxpayer at the time, perhaps you'll let me buy you a cup of coffee sometime. Seriously.

Mike Harpold
Ketchikan, AK

About: "Including my five years in the U.S. Army, make that 40 years of federal service. Thank you U.S. taxpayers for the opportunity. I'm proud to have done my bit."

Received March 29, 2013 - Published March 30, 2013

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letter Open Letter: Federal government ammo hording By A.M. (Al) Johnson



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