The Short History of SAAMI: Setting the Industry Standards for Nearly a Century

The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute traces its roots to 1913 and the Society of American Manufacturers of Small Arms and Ammunition (SAMSAA).  During the lead up to World War 1, SAMSAA was created at the encouragement of the United States War Department as a way to establish an exchange of technical information between U.S. factories producing military arms and ammunition.  This information exchange allowed firearms to accept ammunition made by a wide variety of both civilian manufacturers and government contractors, which previously had not always been the case.  SAMSAA was active until the early 1920s when it was allowed to lapse in the post-war area.

The mid‐1920s were interesting times for the arms and ammunition industries.  Smokeless powder had replaced black and semi‐smokeless powders in practically all sporting ammunition, and that led to safety concerns about the shooting public’s understanding of smokeless powder’s higher performance level compared to black and semi‐smokeless.  At the same time, the Commerce Department was pressing Congress to recognize that WWI had created strategic materials shortages of brass, copper and lead, and those shortages were hindering many U.S. industries.  Also, the warehouses of ammunition makers and distributors were stocked with more than 4,000 different shotshell loads and 350 different centerfire rifle and pistol loads.  Concerns about inventories of obsolete and nearly obsolete ammunition coupled with the scarcity of strategic materials highlighted the need for the revival of some sort of body to voluntarily standardize product dimensional, pressure and performance parameters.

In 1925 Congress, acting through the Commerce Department, requested the industry to revitalize the small arms and ammunition society that had existed during WWI.  In January of 1926, representatives of all smokeless powder producers, every major ammunition manufacturing company, and most of the major makers of firearms founded a successor group and titled it the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI).  The first major project carried out by SAAMI was a major reduction of obsolete and nearly obsolete black powder and semi‐smokeless powder loads for both shotshells and metallic cartridges.  When that undertaking was complete, the number of shotshell loads had been reduced by 95 percent and metallic cartridge loads by 70 percent.

By the 1920s, market hunting, habitat loss and non‐existent or inadequate statutory protection had reduced populations of America’s game animals to an alarming level.  Recognizing how critical the situation had become, SAAMI took steps to save our wildlife resources.  In 1928 it funded game surveys conducted by Aldo Leopold in nine Midwestern states and underwrote publication of a book‐length summary of the surveys.  Leopold went on to become the acknowledged father of modern wildlife management through regulated sport hunting of many species, and SAAMI was instrumental in bringing about the 1933 publication of his foundational textbook, Game Management.

From 1931 through 1935, SAAMI financially supported the Clinton Game School in New Jersey, which graduated 145 of the first technically trained wildlife management professionals employed by federal and state wildlife agencies. In 1933, the federal government imposed a 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition.  Originally the excise tax went straight into the federal government’s general fund, but the Pittman‐Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 mandated that the excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition should be used solely for wildlife restoration and related purposes. SAAMI’s executive committee was instrumental in gaining the support of shooters, hunters and politicians to ensure passage of the Pittman‐Robertson Act.

In the 1940s, SAAMI began publishing “The Ten Commandments of Safety, Published in the Interest of Making and Keeping Shooting a Safe Sport.”  Millions of copies have been distributed by many manufacturers and organizations.  Since that time, fatal firearm accidents have decreased dramatically and are currently at historic low levels.

Also, during the same time period, SAAMI published a broad array of booklets that educate consumers on the safe and responsible use, handling, and storage of firearms, ammunition, and components for reloading of ammunition.

By the late 1950s, SAAMI members realized there was a need to promote, protect and preserve hunting and shooting sports in the United States.  At the same time, SAAMI saw it was necessary that it maintain its place as the technical expert in the field of firearms and ammunition.  As a result, in 1961, the National Shooting Sports Foundation was founded as an independent industry organization tasked with delivering the public education mission of the industry, separate from SAAMI’s mission regarding technical product performance, safety and interchangeability matters.

The 1970s was the start of three decades of transformation and modernization of the firearms and ammunition industry.  SAAMI started the transition of the decades-old copper crusher chamber pressure measurement system (CUP) to the modern piezoelectric transducer chamber pressure measurement system (PSI).  In addition, there was the formation of a product standards development task force responsible for the creation of the five American National Standards standards, which have been repeatedly reaffirmed or revised through the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) consensus process.  SAAMI also published several pamphlets relating to the safe handling and storage of firearms and ammunition.

In the 1980s, SAAMI submitted empirical technical data supporting the inclusion of ammunition in the ORM-D shipping classification.  The classification safely enabled tens of millions of cost effective small package shipments of sporting ammunition.  SAAMI also produced the first “Sporting Ammunition and the Fire Fighter” video, providing fact-based information to help firefighters address the realities of fires containing sporting ammunition while dispelling myths and fears about their safety.

In the 1990s, SAAMI took a leadership role in orchestrating industry members voluntarily participating in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (BATF) “Access 2000” program.  This program significantly enhanced the ATF National Tracing Center’s ability to quickly trace firearms recovered in connection with a criminal investigation.

In 2005, SAAMI was accredited as a United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with Consultative Status.   In 2008, SAAMI remade the “Sporting Ammunition and the Fire Fighter” video in cooperation with the International Association of Fire Chiefs.  The updated video provided firefighters with even more comprehensive fact-based information on fighting fires containing sporting ammunition, in addition to addressing the latest changes in technology.

In the mid-2000s, in order to expand the global market for sporting firearms and ammunition products, SAAMI formed a partnership with Commission Internationale Permanente pour l’Epreuve des Armes à Feu Portatives (“Permanent International Commission for the Proof of Small Arms” – commonly abbreviated as C.I.P.) to harmonize standards between the two organizations.

In 2012, SAAMI spearheaded the effort at the UN to modify the Limited Quantities (LQ) classification for 1.4S items to replace the ORM-D classification that was being phased out.  The LQ classification allowed for the continued safe and cost-effective shipment of sporting ammunition and expanded ORD-D-style shipments to international scope.

These are but a few of the projects SAAMI has achieved and promoted since being founded in 1926.  Every day brings new opportunities to provide technical leadership to address the many issues surrounding sporting firearms, ammunition, and components.

Today, SAAMI remains the global leader in its mission to create and promulgate voluntary technical, performance and safety standards for commerce in firearms, ammunition and their components.