Bullets being sold out of vending machines in some U.S. grocery stores

ByKimberly Chandler AP logo
Wednesday, July 10, 2024 4:08PM
Vending machines selling bullets now in some U.S. grocery stores
ABC News' Alison Kosik has the details as American Rounds installs new ammunition vending machines in grocery stores in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A company has installed computerized vending machines to sell ammunition in grocery stores in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas, allowing patrons to pick up bullets along with a gallon of milk.

American Rounds said their machines use an identification scanner and facial recognition software to verify the purchaser's age and are as "quick and easy" to use as a computer tablet. But advocates worry that selling bullets out of vending machines will lead to more shootings in the U.S., where gun violence killed at least 33 people on Independence Day alone.

The company maintains the age-verification technology means that the transactions are as secure, or more secure, than online sales, which may not require the purchaser to submit proof of age, or at retail stores, where there is a risk of shoplifting.

"I'm very thankful for those who are taking the time to get to know us and not just making assumptions about what we're about," CEO Grant Magers said. "We are very pro-Second Amendment, but we are for responsible gun ownership, and we hope we're improving the environment for the community."

There have been 15 mass killings involving a firearm so far in 2024, compared to 39 in 2023, according to a database maintained in a partnership of The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.

"Innovations that make ammunition sales more secure via facial recognition, age verification, and the tracking of serial sales are promising safety measures that belong in gun stores, not in the place where you buy your kids milk," said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. "In a country awash in guns and ammo, where guns are the leading cause of deaths for kids, we don't need to further normalize the sale and promotion of these products."

Magers said grocery stores and others approached the Texas-based company, which began in 2023, about the idea of selling ammunition through automated technology. The company has one machine in Alabama, four in Oklahoma and one in Texas, with plans for another in Texas and one in Colorado in the coming weeks, he said.

"People I think got shocked when they thought about the idea of selling ammo at a grocery store," Magers said. "But as we explained, how is that any different than Walmart?"

Federal law requires a person to be 18 to buy shotgun and rifle ammunition and 21 to buy handgun ammunition. Magers said their machines require a purchaser to be at least 21.

The machine works by requiring a customer to scan their driver's license to validate that they are age 21 or older. The scan also checks that it is a valid license, he said. That is followed by a facial recognition scan to verify "you are who you are saying you are as a consumer," he said.

"At that point you can complete your transaction of your product and you're off and going," he said. "The whole experience takes a minute and a half once you are familiar with the machine."

The vending machine is another method of sale, joining retail stores and online retailers. A March report by Everytown for Gun Safety found that several major online ammunition retailers did not appear to verify their customers' ages, despite requirements.

Last year, an online retailer settled a lawsuit brought by families of those killed and injured in a 2018 Texas high school shooting. The families said the 17-year-old shooter was able to buy ammunition from the retailer who failed to verify his age.

Vending machines for bullets or other age-restricted materials is not an entirely new idea. Companies have developed similar technology to sell alcoholic beverages. A company has marketed automated kiosks to sell cannabis products in dispensaries in states where marijuana is legal.

A Pennsylvania police officer created a company about 12 years ago that places bullet-vending machines in private gun clubs and ranges as a convenience for patrons. Those machines do not have the age verification mechanism but are only placed in locations with an age requirement to enter, Master Ammo owner Sam Piccinini said.

Piccinini spoke with a company years ago about incorporating the artificial intelligence technology to verify a purchaser's age and identity, but at the time it was cost-prohibitive, he said. For American Rounds, one machine had to be removed from a site in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, because of disappointing sales, Magers said.

Magers said much of the early interest for the machines has been in rural communities where there may be few retailers that sell ammunition. The American Rounds machines are in Super C Mart and Fresh Value grocery stores in small cities, including Pell City, Alabama, which has a population over 13,600, and Noble, Oklahoma, where nearly 7,600 people live.

"Someone in that community might have to drive an hour or an hour and a half to get supplied if they want to go hunting, for instance," Margers said. "Our grocery stores, they wanted to be able to offer their customer another category that they felt like would be popular."

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