Coming soon to Colorado: bullets for sale at ammo vending machines in supermarkets

This undated photo from American Rounds shows a vending machine selling ammunition at various locations across the United States. The machines scan a customer’s driver’s license and use facial scans to verify a buyer’s identity and that they are at least 21 years old. (American Rounds via AP)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama. | A company has installed automated vending machines in supermarkets in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas, allowing customers to purchase bullets and a gallon of milk.

American Rounds said its machines use an ID scanner and facial recognition software to verify the age of the buyer and are as “quick and easy” to use as a computer tablet. But advocates worry that selling rounds from vending machines will lead to more shootings in the U.S., where at least 33 people were killed by gun violence on Independence Day alone.

The company has one machine in Alabama, four in Oklahoma and one in Texas. There are plans for another machine in Texas and one in Colorado in the coming weeks, he said.

The company claims that its age verification technology makes transactions as safe, if not safer, than online sales, where the buyer may not be required to provide proof of age, or in physical 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 for responsible gun ownership and we hope that we’re improving the environment for the community.”

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

“Innovations that make ammunition sales more secure through facial recognition, age verification, and serial sales tracking are promising safety measures that belong in gun stores, not 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 for children, we don’t need to further normalize the sale and promotion of these products.”

Magers said supermarkets and other businesses approached the Texas company, which was founded in 2023, with the idea of ​​selling ammunition through automated technology.

“I think people were shocked when they thought about the idea of ​​selling ammunition in a grocery store,” Magers said. “But as we explained, how is that different than Walmart?”

Federal law requires a person to be 18 years old to purchase ammunition for shotguns and rifles and 21 years old to purchase ammunition for handguns. Magers said their machines require a buyer to be at least 21 years old.

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

“At that point you can complete your transaction of your product and you’re gone,” he said. “The whole experience takes a minute and a half once you get familiar with the machine.”

The vending machine is another sales method that is joining brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. A March report from Everytown for Gun Safety found that several major online ammunition sellers did not appear to be verifying the age of their customers, 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, which could not verify his age.

Machines for bullets or other age-restricted materials aren’t entirely new. Companies have developed similar technology to sell alcoholic beverages. One company has launched automated kiosks to sell cannabis products in dispensaries in states where marijuana is legal.

A Pennsylvania police officer started a company about 12 years ago that places pellet machines in private gun clubs and ranges as a convenience to customers. The machines do not have an age verification mechanism, but are only placed in locations that have an age requirement to enter, according to Sam Piccinini, owner of Master Ammo.

Piccinini talked to a company years ago about incorporating the artificial intelligence technology to verify a buyer’s age and identity, but at the time it was too expensive, he said. American Rounds had to remove one machine from a location in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, because of lackluster sales, Magers said.

Magers said much of the early interest in the machines has come from 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 towns, including Pell City, Alabama, with a population of more than 13,600, and Noble, Oklahoma, with a population of nearly 7,600.

“Someone in that 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.”