Earlier this year, the USPS posted a notice on its website, under the heading "Assorted Small Arms Ammunition," that says: "The United States Postal Service intends to solicit proposals for assorted small arms ammunition. If your organization wishes to participate, you must pre-register. This message is only a notification of our intent to solicit proposals."
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Washington-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said: "We're seeing a highly unusual amount of ammunition being bought by the federal agencies over a fairly short period of time. To be honest, I don't understand why the federal government is buying so much at this time."
Jake McGuigan, director of state affairs and government relations for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said widely reported federal ammunition purchases have sparked conspiracy-type fears among gun owners, who worry that the federal government is trying to crack down on Second Amendment rights via the back door by limiting the ammo available to owners.
It's not just the USPS that is stocking up on ammo.
A little more than a year ago, the Social Security Administration put in a request for 174,000 rounds of ".357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow-point" bullets.
Before that, it was the Department of Agriculture requesting 320,000 rounds. More recently, the Department of Homeland Security raised eyebrows with its request for 450 million rounds — at about the same time the FBI separately sought 100 million hollow-point rounds.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also requested 46,000 rounds.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, asked: why exactly does a weather service need ammunition?
"NOAA — really? They have a need? One just doesn't know why they're doing this," he said. "The problem is, all these agencies have their own SWAT teams, their own police departments, which is crazy. In theory, it was supposed to be the U.S. marshals that was the armed branch for the federal government."
Armed federal employees are often assigned to offices of investigative services, the offices of inspectors general, or other equally bureaucratic agencies.
For instance, regular Internal Revenue Service agents aren't equipped with on-the-job guns — but those affiliated with the agency's Criminal Investigations Division are.
The same goes for workers with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with the Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General, and with the Department of Education's Office of Inspector General.
The Energy Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development are a few of the federal entities that boast an armed division, tasked with investigating fraud and suspected criminal activities. As such, the agents get to carry guns.
"Most of these agencies do have their own police forces," said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Gun Owners' Action League.
That, perhaps more than federal ammunition purchases, is the larger issue, he suggested, and Van Cleave agreed.
"What's the need for that? Do we really need this? That was something our Founding Fathers did not like and we should all be concerned about," Van Cleave said, speaking of the expansion of police forces throughout all levels of government.
The Department of Homeland Security employs in its various law enforcement entities — from the Coast Guard to the Secret Service to Customs and Border Protection — more than 200,000 workers, an estimated 135,000 of whom are authorized to carry weapons. When the agency makes its ammo buys, it often does so over the course of several years.
"We realize that the House is still investigating the ammo purchases by the administration, but from what we've seen so far, most representatives don't seem alarmed," said Erich Pratt, communications director for Gun Owners of America.
"For example, [Georgia Republican] Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said that given all the agencies that the Department of Homeland Security purchases for, "450 million rounds really is not that large of an order," Pratt said.
McGuigan acknowledged that there was a scarcity of ammo but attributed it more to a rise in purchases by individuals.
The Obama administration's stated desire to scale back gun rights drove more in the private sector to purchase firearms — which in turn fueled ammunition sales, McGuigan said.
"Over the last few years, there's been a tremendous increase in gun ownership, [with] many more females," McGuigan said. "I think a lot of people need to be aware of what's happening, and what the federal agencies are doing. I don't think, though, they need to be overly concerned that there's not going to be any ammo left."
But the notion of the Obama administration's using backdoor means to scale back gun ownership — a move that's hardly been kept secret — doesn't seem that outlandish to some.
"I don't believe in conspiracy theories, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense," Gottlieb said. "The amount of ammunition they're buying up far exceeds their needs. It far exceeds what they'll use — they'll never use it all."