Should U.S. gunowners boycott Russian ammunition?

Should U.S. gunowners boycott Russian ammunition?
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

That’s the gist of a new story at USA Today, which starts out with a flawed premise but does manage to raise an interesting question: should American gun owners still be grabbing up Russian-made ammunition now that it’s invaded Ukraine?

The ostensible reason why USA Today is bringing up the issue is the fact that Russian-made ammo is still being shipped to the United State after Joe Biden announced sanctions on the items last summer. There’s a reason why that’s happening, but according to the paper, it’s the result of a “loophole” in the sanctions language.

All Russian ammo was banned for import to the U.S. as of Sept. 7, 2021, but the cheap 7.62 x 39 mm bullets – favored by many Americans for target practice with semiautomatic rifles – kept flowing because of a State Department loophole allowing existing and pending import permits to stand. Russian brands such as Wolf, TulAmmo and Barnaul are easy to find at gun shops and U.S.-based online retailers.

The sanctions and the grandfathered Russian imports have split the top firearm lobbies and gun owners: Some take a hard-line Second Amendment view, some fall on the side of democratic support for Ukraine, some seem to be torn between the two.

The “grandfathering” of existing ammunition contracts wasn’t a loophole and it wasn’t a secret. As I wrote last August in my piece on the administration’s announcement of the sanctions:

I’ve seen a lot of folks on social media say that this is a total ban on the importation of Russian ammunition (and many folks ignoring the word “firearms” in there as well), but I don’t read it that way. It looks to me that those U.S. companies that are currently permitted to import arms and ammunition manufactured in Russia can continue their operations as normal (at least for now), but no new permits will be issued, including those that are already in the pipeline.

Legally then, there’s nothing untoward about U.S. companies continuing to use their existing import permits to bring in Russian-made ammunition for sale here in the U.S. Remember, these sanctions were put in place last summer, long before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. These sanctions were meant to punish Russia “over its use of a ‘Novichok’ nerve agent in the August 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny”, according to an administration statement at the time the sanctions were revealed.

But does the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February change things from a moral perspective? It depends on who you ask.

Shooters should opt to pay a little more to avoid supporting Russia, said Bill Brown, an importer for Reno-based Battle Born Munitions. He said he sold off his inventory, left permits unfilled and cut off Russian contracts.

“Why are you supporting the Russian war machine? Do you feel comfortable selling Russian-made military ammunition that’s fueling and funding the atrocities in Ukraine?” Brown said. “When you pay your 30 cents for a round, 28 of it goes back to Mother Russia. There’s no way you can contest that.”

NSSF spokesman Oliva disagrees, contending that any ammunition on store shelves was bought and paid for months before Russia became a global pariah.

“We want our members to stay in business, but companies can make their own value-based decisions, and that’s evident by the companies making donations to Ukraine,” Oliva said in an interview. “We focus on what the law says and don’t take a position on the sanctions.”

Gun enthusiasts are conflicted, said Brandon Herrera, a Texas-based YouTube expert on AK firearms with nearly 2 million subscribers. He said he worries the sanctions will do more harm to American consumers than Putin.

“I think a lot of the gun community is with Ukraine and against the occupation,” Herrera said, noting the war has played out in his video channel’s comments section between global supporters of Russia and of Ukraine.

“If you’re an average person deciding not to buy this ammo and you’re out to protest Russia,” he said, “you need to remember the difference between Russian citizens and the actions of Putin.”

Putin’s not the only one who should have to answer for his actions, but I see the point that Herrera’s trying to make. I do think it’s a personal choice (at least while Russian-made ammunition is still available for sale) whether or not to take advantage of the lower prices for Russian ammunition, but I applaud Brown’s decision to stop doing business with Russian companies even though he could use his existing permits to continue to import Russian-made bullets into the country. I don’t have a problem with retailers selling whatever they have in stock, but I’d also be fully supportive of a voluntary boycott of new imports of Russian-made ammunition as long as the country’s invasion of Ukraine is still taking place. Better yet, maybe these distributors can turn around and ship some of their ammo imports to Ukraine once the product arrives on American soil. Want to really stick it to Putin? Equip the Ukrainian military with ammo produced by one of his cronies. I’d kick in a couple of bucks to make that happen, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.