You can buy snacks, condoms, fishing bait, marijuana and even gold from vending machines, so Sam Piccinini figured, “Why not bullets?”
A 25-year police department veteran who now runs his own ammunition manufacturing and wholesale business, Piccinini, of Rochester, Pa., has two of his retrofitted vending machines at his local gun club. The machines, which sell nearly every caliber of bullet from .22 to .45, are doing a brisk business and, Piccinini said, other clubs want his machines.
“I have clubs lining up at my door wanting them,” Piccinini told FoxNews.com. “I have five clubs chomping at the bit, wanting these machines.”
“It's not like someone walking off the street can get in and buy ammunition.”
- Sam Piccinini
Piccinini, who owns Master Ammo Co., a licensed manufacturer of ammunition, said he got the idea two years ago, when bullet shortages around the nation left members of the Beaver Valley Rifle & Pistol Club unable to buy the “non-jacketed” rounds preferred at most shooting ranges.
First, Piccinini asked local attorney Eugene Martucci if such a machine would be legal. Told such a device could be operated lawfully, Piccinini bought a vending machine and had some modifications made to it, allowing it to accept larger bills and credit cards and to hoist and dispense bags of .45-caliber Automatic Colt Pistol cartridges. He figures he spent about $4,000 on the first vending machine. He now has two of them at the club and a third ready to be deployed.
Piccinini’s machines sell both handgun and rifle ammunition, which are regulated differently. In Pennsylvania, people ages 18 and over can buy long gun ammunition and people over 21 can buy bullets for handguns. Critics say selling from a machine, without an attendant to ensure the purchase is legal, poses a problem.
Piccinini likens his machines to cigarette vending machines in social clubs, noting that a prominent sticker on them states, “You must be 21 years of age to purchase ammunition for use in handguns from this machine.” Since the club does not admit minors without adult guardians, and since anyone entering must pass through a security gate and swipe an ID card to enter, Piccinini does not believe there is a risk of illicit sales.
“It's not like someone walking off the street can get in and buy ammunition,” Piccinini said.
Selling bullets out of a vending machine, as opposed to over a counter, is "not a big deal," said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Washington-based pro-gun control group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
"Ammunition is widely available at ranges to begin with,and we don't take issue with that," Everitt said. "If they put it in a school, call me back."
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulates sales of ammunition, and Piccinini has permits allowing him to manufacture, sell and even export guns and ammunition. Stephen Bartholomew, of the BATFE's Philadelphia field office, told the BeaverCountian.com he had never come across vending machines that sell ammunition.
“I don’t want to speculate as to what is or is not happening in this particular situation, but a licensee cannot sell ammunition to anyone under the age of 18 and, importantly, you cannot sell handgun ammunition to individuals under the age of 21,” he said.
The club makes no money off of sales or for renting space for the machines, which Piccinini, who sells ammunition to retailers and police departments in Pennsylvania, hopes will become a growing part of his company.
“The club doesn’t receive any profits and the machines are strictly there for the convenience of its members,” said Piccinini.
The club is not looking for publicity for the machines, according to its president, Bill Fortuna.
“This has been kept a secret, it’s nobody’s business, it’s our club, we can do as our members allow us,” Fortuna told BeaverCountian.com. “Legally, there’s nothing anybody can do about it.”
Piccinini, who is running for Beaver County sheriff, a post he has twice sought unsuccessfully, believes criticism he has received for his brainchild will ultimately backfire and win him the votes of Second Amendment advocates in the March 19 Republican primary.
"Some people have been critical, but I think even more people support me and support the right to bear arms," he said.