Ammo Vending Machines a Big Hit at Alabama Grocery Stores

AP Photo/Brittainy Newman, File

I know at least two convenience stores near my home in central Virgnia where I can pick up a box of shells or 9mm ammunition, but this is the first time I've heard of a full-service grocery store stepping up to offer ammo for sale. 


The company American Rounds has actually installed their automated ammunition vending machines in six grocery stores; four in Oklahoma and two in Alabama, where the machines have drawn the interest of local media (and local politicians) in places like Tuscaloosa. 

During a briefing of the Tuscaloosa City Council before their regular slate of meetings, city council president Kip Tyner asked police chief Brent Blankley and other municipal leaders to explain a vending machine selling people ammunition at the Fresh Value store on at the corner of Skyland and McFarland Boulevards. 

"I got some calls about ammunition being sold in grocery store vending machines," Tyner said. "I thought it was a joke, but it's not." 

He's right - the automated dispenser is no joke, it's one of the very first unmanned vending machines installed by American Rounds, a company looking to revolutionize how ammunition for handguns, rifles and shotguns is sold.

The company now has machines in six locations - the Tuscaloosa Fresh Value, plus another location in Pell City, Alabama, and in four grocery stores across Oklahoma.

In a video introducing the concept, CEO Grant Magers said it was the stores who were looking for a way to bring ammo sales to their property, and the vending machines were an innovative answer.

"We're super excited to offer what we think is the first ammo kiosk," said Terry Stanley, COO of Fresh Value. "We're always looking for ways to give our customers another reason to come visit our stores. Anything we can do to help them make their shopping trips easier, based on the feedback we've gotten from customers today, they are so excited about us having this ammo kiosk."


So how does this work, exactly? Well, once you've picked out the ammunition you want to purchase, you have to scan your ID. The vending machine then uses facial recognition technology to verify your ID matches your face. Once that's been confirmed, you pay your money and the box of ammo is all yours

"Legally, we're required to make sure that someone's of legal age in order to use the machine or to purchase ammunition," said Lawrence Songer, chief operating officer at American Rounds. "And past that, we want to make sure that they have a valid ID."

Songer believes this AI technology is more secure than a real person checking a license. 

"One thing that you don't get in traditional retailers when it comes to ID verification is, depending on the store employee, a lot of times a person's not carded to begin with or asked for their ID," Songer said.

But this system isn't perfect. While Songer tried to demonstrate the checkout process, the verification failed, unable to confirm he was the same person on his license.

Even so, he said the reaction to the machine has been mostly positive.

"Customers think it's a good idea, they think it's convenient, they like the fact that it's here," Songer said. "Sales have been steady and strong at all the locations we've launched so far, and hopefully, it just continues that trend."

It's an interesting concept, though I doubt I'd use the machine to buy my next box of ammunition. I'm not a big fan of facial recognition technology or AI in general, and I actually enjoy shooting the breeze with the guys behind the counter at my local gun shop. 


But if the sales have been steady and strong, then there's clearly a market for what American Rounds has come up with, and good for them for finding a niche in the market that pretty much everyone else has ignored. 

Besides the Fresh Value stores in Tuscaloosa and Pell City, Alabama, you can also find the American Rounds machines at Super C Marts in Wetumka, Noble, Lindsay, and Kingston, Oklahoma. I doubt we'll be seeing these machines pop up at Whole Foods or Trader Joes anytime soon, but they might very well become more common in small town grocery stores in the future... at least in those states where ammo isn't a bad word.  

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