Ammunition vending machines in several grocery stores in the United States, including Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas

Ammunition vending machines in several grocery stores in the United States, including Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas

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

American Rounds says its machines use an ID scanner and facial recognition software to verify the buyer’s age and are as “quick and easy” to use as a tablet. But advocates worry that selling bullets in vending machines could lead to more shootings in the United States, where gun violence killed at least 33 people on Independence Day.

The company argues that age verification technology means transactions are as secure, if not more secure, than online sales, which may not require the buyer to provide proof of age, or in retail stores, where there is a risk of shoplifting.

“I’m very grateful for those who take the time to get to know us and not just make assumptions about what we stand for,” said CEO Grant Magers. “We’re very pro-Second Amendment, but we’re pro-responsible gun ownership and we hope we’re making a difference in the community.”

According to a database maintained in partnership by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University, there have been 15 mass shootings involving firearms so far in 2024, compared with 39 in 2023.

“Innovations that make ammunition sales safer through facial recognition, age verification, and serial sales tracking are promising safety measures that should be implemented in gun stores, not the places where you buy milk for your kids,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president of law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. “In a country awash in guns and ammunition, where guns are the leading cause of death among children, we do not need to further normalize the sale and promotion of these products.”

Magers said grocery stores and others have reached out to the Texas-based company, which started 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, and plans to install another in Texas and one in Colorado in the coming weeks, he said.

“I think people were shocked at the idea of ​​selling ammunition in a grocery store,” Magers said. “But as we explained, how is this different from Walmart?”

Federal law requires a person to be 18 years old to purchase shotgun and rifle ammunition and 21 years old to purchase handgun ammunition. Magers said their machines require the buyer to be at least 21 years old.

The machine works by asking the customer to scan their driver’s license to validate that they are 21 or older. The scan also verifies that it is a valid license, he said. That is followed by a facial recognition scan to verify “that you are who you say you are as a consumer,” he said.

“At this point, you can finalize your product transaction and you’re ready to go,” he said. “The whole experience takes a minute and a half once you’re familiar with the machine.”

Vending machines are another way to sell, joining retail stores and online retailers. A report released in March by Everytown for Gun Safety found that several major online ammunition retailers did not appear to verify the age of their customers, despite requirements.

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

Vending machines for bullets or other products that are prohibited for minors are not an entirely new idea. Companies have developed similar technology to sell alcoholic beverages. One company has marketed automated kiosks to sell cannabis products at dispensaries in states where marijuana is legal.

About 12 years ago, a Pennsylvania police officer started a company that installs automatic bullet dispensers at gun clubs and private shooting ranges for the convenience of customers. The machines don’t have age verification mechanisms, but are placed only in places where there is an age requirement for entry, said Sam Piccinini, owner of Master Ammo.

A few years ago, Piccinini talked to a company about integrating artificial intelligence technology to verify a buyer’s age and identity, but at the time, the cost was prohibitive, he said. For American Rounds, a machine had to be removed from a Tuscaloosa, Ala., facility because of disappointing sales, Magers said.

Magers said initial interest in the machines has been primarily in rural communities where there are few ammunition retailers. American Rounds machines are found in Super C Mart and Fresh Value supermarkets in small towns, including Pell City, Ala., which has a population of more than 13,600, and Noble, Okla., which has a population of about 7,600.

“Someone in this community might have to drive an hour or an hour and a half to get supplies if they want to go hunting, for example,” Margers said. “Our grocery stores wanted to be able to offer their customers another category that they thought would be popular.”

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