A vending machine operated by a candidate for Beaver County Sheriff that distributes firearms ammunition is raising some eyebrows. The machine is installed inside of the Beaver Valley Rifle & Pistol Club, offering both rifle and handgun ammunition and operating in the same fashion as vending machines commonly used to sell snack foods.
The Beaver Countian received several tips from members of the Beaver Valley Rifle & Pistol Club (BVRPC), located next to Brady’s Run Park in Brighton Township, who said they have concerns about the appropriateness of using a vending machine to sell firearms ammunition. This publication was provided with several photos taken of the machine by the members.
The club’s vending machine is operated by Master Ammo Company, a small ammunition manufacturing business owned by Sam Piccinini, a Rochester Township patrolman and Republican candidate for Beaver County Sheriff.
Membership to the BVRPC is open to individuals 18 years of age or older. Individuals under 18 years of age are permitted to join the organization as junior members who are to be supervised by an adult sponsor while at the club. All adult members are given digital swipe cards which grants 24 hour access to organization’s grounds and to the club’s indoor shooting ranges where the ammunition vending machine is located.
Sam Piccinini told the Beaver Countian that members of the club were having a hard time finding “non-jacketed ammunition” required for use in its gun ranges, which gave him the idea to install a vending machine as a unique opportunity for his business.
“Most conventional commercial ammunition manufactured today is jacketed, and jackets can separate from the lead when it hits the backstops in gun ranges,” said Piccinini. “This causes two issues, it causes premature wear to the gun range’s backstops and it could cause a safety issue because the jacket can come back and hit you. It wouldn’t be enough to kill you, but it could cut you or put an eye out.”
Sam Piccinini said as the club’s membership recently began to rapidly grow, so did the area’s demand for non-jacketed ammunition. “We were getting 30 or 40 new members to the club per month, and they were saying we can’t find it, we can’t find it — You could go into 50 stores that sell ammo and only maybe 2 of them would sell non-jacketed […] That’s what my business focuses on, I make non-jacketed ammo rated for gun ranges.”
Piccinini’s Master Ammo Company has a Type 6 Federal Firearms License that permits the manufacturing of ammunition. He got permission from the gun club to install a vending machine to sell his ammunition from to members.
“This has been kept a secret, it’s nobody’s business, it’s our club, we can do as our members allow us,” said Bill Fortuna, President of the Beaver Valley Rifle & Pistol Club. “Legally there’s nothing anybody can do about it.”
Fortuna said his club’s attorney reviewed the concept of the machine, and members of the club formally approved of it’s installation. Sam Piccinini said he had his attorney review the business venture as well before installing the machine.
The club is not paid any rent for housing the machine, receives no revenues from the sale of ammunition, and has no control over its operation.
“It was done intentionally that the club doesn’t receive any profits, it is strictly there for the convenience of its members,” said Piccinini. “If they have no attachment to it financially, that relieves them from any liability from it which is what they were concerned about.”
Stephen Bartholomew, a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the federal government regulates companies that are in the business of manufacturing ammunition. “An individual who is manufacturing ammunition and selling it is required to have a license from ATF, and there are certain requirements under that licensing […] I don’t want to speculate as to what is or is not happening in this particular situation, but a licensee can not sell ammunition to anyone under the age of 18, and importantly you can not sell handgun ammunition to individuals under the age of 21.”
Although the club allows 24 hour access to all of its members age 18 and older, the vending machine sells both rifle and the limited-to-21-and-over handgun ammunition.
“The machine sells pretty much everything,” said Piccinini, “From .22 long rifle to .45 Long Colt and every standard caliber in between except .32 and .25 automatic. It’s got 380, 9, 38, 40, 45, .357 SIG. I manufacture all of it myself.”
There is no attendant on site and the vending machine has no features to actually authenticate the age of an individual purchasing the ammunition, but does boast a large sign which reads: “You must be 21 years of age to purchase handgun ammunition from this machine.”
“Years ago you use to be able to by cigarettes from cigarette machines,” said Piccinini. “Then the ATF, who regulates the sale of tobacco, put restrictions on them that said any place you go where the public has access, there has to be an attendant there to verify the age of the person buying the cigarettes […] However, if you go into any social hall, any VFW, you’ll still find cigarette machines — They’re in the hallways, where the coat racks are, they’re all over the place. But there’s a sign on the machines that says you must be 18 years of age to get tobacco products from this machine. It’s is no different with the ammunition, my machine is not open and available to the general public, it is in a private club and members have to be at least 18 years of age to enter the facility.”
Special Agent Bartholomew told the Beaver Countian this was the first time he has ever heard of someone selling ammunition from a vending machine, “I have not seen something like this before personally, and have not heard of it trending across the state or heard that this is occurring anywhere else […] Most licensees are very careful about how they sell their ammunition.”
Sam Piccinini said he is planning to expand his business by installing machines in additional gun clubs.