Concern over weapons control measures and rumors of government hoarding have sent stockpiles of shots flying off store shelves.
The run started in November with President Barack Obama’s re-election, followed by the mass shooting in December of children in Newtown, Conn., which led the president to launch an effort to strengthen federal gun controls and several states to tighten their laws. Compounding the issue are tales of government officials hoarding billions of rounds and, at the same time, attempting to disarm the populace.
Short supplies have even put a pinch on law enforcement agencies.
“We began seeing some difficulty in obtaining ammunition several years ago as manufacturers were unable to fulfill both military contracts and supply the civilian markets,” said Cartersville Police Chief Thomas Culpepper. “The long-term consumption of ammunition — and its components — has been and continues to make the purchase of ammunition somewhat difficult. When the manufacturers cannot obtain the components to assemble the ammunition, then supplies become limited. If the problem is going to continue or worsen, it would most likely be in the supply chain from the manufacturer to the consumer. Supplies are sometimes limited or there are extended time frames on orders being delivered.”
And consumers are feeling the effects.
Respondents on a Facebook post by The Daily Tribune News showed residents are having a hard time locating lead. Among the comments: “I wish I could just find some ammo to purchase. The shelves stay empty.” “I had trouble then I figured out [Wal-Mart’s] system. It’s coming in now and has been available all along but the prices were prohibitive.”
Price is also an issue for police.
“The price has gone up noticeably over the past several years. I cannot give a percentage, however the increases are noticeable,” Culpepper said. “When I was a division commander 10 years ago, we paid around $95 for 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Today, we are paying approximately $145 per 1,000.”
The nation’s 100 million firearms owners are driving the market for some 10 billion rounds annually, with demand and gun purchases both increasing the past several months, driven partly by fear that tougher laws will restrict the ability to buy firearms, said Lawrence Keane, whose National Shooting Sports Foundation is based in Newtown.
The major U.S. manufacturers are running shifts around the clock to try to meet increased demand, he said. The foundation projected $1.5 billion from ammunition sales in 2011 and $2.8 billion from gun sales, totals that more than doubled in a decade.
Culpepper said the main reason his department hears is military needs have exacerbated the strain in past several years.
“I can only relate what I hear from manufacturers and, in particular, the one we generally purchase through. Fulfilling military contracts for the past several years has put a strain on their ability to deliver products to the civilian market,” he said. “That, in turn, means that we either have to wait longer to have orders filled or do without. We currently purchase ammunition for training and duty when we find it available and we have a need to purchase it. While some areas may be more affected than others, we currently have sufficient ammunition on-hand to conduct adequate training and qualification to fulfill our mission to the community.
“I tend not to be an alarmist about this.”
Adairsville Police Chief Robert Jones said the wait time was a factor for his department as well.
“We have been trying to get duty ammo for about four months, but the average wait time is three months,” he said.
Other local agencies reported no issues with locating ammunition.
Sheriff Clark Millsap said the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office has experienced no difficulty acquiring rounds. The Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force also reported no issues.
“Total rounds used by all weapons issued by the sheriff’s office is approximately 25,000 rounds annually, and I have not had any problem obtaining ammo for the weapons issued by the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office,” said BCSO Departmental Training Officer Capt. Mike Shinall.
Two local businesses are on both sides of the problem — a firearms dealer on Tennessee Street said the business experienced no issues stocking ammunition, but the owner of Bells Ferry Ace Hardware in Acworth said the store was having difficulty purchasing ammo.
At least for the CPD, which uses about 20,000 rounds per year, there may be an alternative.
“While we do sufficient live fire training, we also have the resource of a firearms simulator that allows us to conduct added weapons training, which includes judgment in the use of deadly force. It also helps to save on the cost of both ammunition and personnel time,” Culpepper said.
In an Associated Press report, discussions and proposed weapons control measures created shortages across the country.
“Department of Homeland Security and the federal government itself is buying up ammunition and components at such a rate, it’s causing artificial shortage of supplies for the regular consumer,” said Jesse Alday, a state corrections officer who was buying a couple of boxes of primers at Hunter’s Haven in Rolesville, N.C., north of Raleigh.
“They’re buying it up as fast as they can, for reasons they’re not officially willing to admit or go into. ... They’re not willing to come up with any answers as to the reasons behind why they have enough ammunition on the U.S., on our own home soil, to wage a 25-year war,” he said. “That’s kind of strange.”
Keane, whose group includes manufacturers, said the reports of massive federal purchases were not true.
The government routinely buys products in bulk to reduce costs, and Homeland Security has said the latest purchases are no different.
Last year, the department put out bids for a total of about 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next five years. The rounds are to be used for training, routine weapons qualification exercises and normal duty by various department agencies.
On a smaller scale, some local law enforcement agencies are also having problems getting ammo.
Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, said the agency was still waiting on rifle and shotgun ammunition ordered in November.
In Phoenix, the police department has stopped providing officers with 100 rounds of ammunition per month for practice. Sgt. Trent Crump said 10 to 15 percent of the department’s 3,000 officers, who are assigned .40-caliber and .45-caliber handguns, had taken advantage of the ammunition for practice shooting.
In January, police chiefs in central Texas said they were having trouble arming their officers because of shortages of assault rifles and ammunition.
Stockpiling has also been fueled by false online rumors, such as one that purports a coming nickel tax on each bullet, which would triple the cost of a .22-caliber cartridge, said Hans Farnung, president of Beikirch’s Ammunition, a retailer and wholesaler in Rochester, N.Y., that sells in seven states.
“I don’t want to call them doomsdayers, but people get on these blogs on the Internet and they drive people’s fears,” he said. “They do not want to wait around and see.”
The tax rumor was fueled by proposals in Connecticut, California and Illinois that haven’t advanced.
This isn’t the first U.S. run on ammunition. Walmart’s Kory Lundberg said the retail chain previously rationed in 2009, the year Obama entered the White House. However, sportsmen and tradesmen say the current shortages are nationwide, and the worst they’ve seen.
New York’s law will require ammunition sellers to register and buyers to undergo a background check starting Jan. 15, 2014. Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, said the run on guns and ammunition isn’t surprising and is fueled by “gross exaggerations,” when reasonable discussion is what’s needed.
Bruce Martindale, a champion marksman from upstate New York who normally uses .22-caliber rimfire ammunition, said it’s now hard for him to get anything, partly because online retailers are reluctant to ship to New York and risk running afoul of its new law.
“I can’t buy supplies anywhere,” he said. Like many competitors, he has cut back on practice but says he doesn’t see a public safety concern.
“This is legitimate gun owners buying,” he said. “I don’t think criminals are stockpiling.”