Ammunition shortage blamed on the run on guns
By Bob Frye
Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
These should be the best of times for Todd Edmiston.
Owner of A&S Indoor Pistol Range in Youngwood, he has a lot of customers who want to practice shooting the firearms they own. An increasing number of others want to buy guns, some for the first time. His basic pistol and personal protection training classes are booked through year's end.
People want to shoot, but getting ammunition has become a problem.
Talk of possible gun control legislation and reports of a government buying binge sparked an unprecedented run on ammunition. Handgun ammo and that used in rifles of particular calibers, such as .22 and .223, are the hardest to find. Many store shelves are empty.
“We were pretty good up until three or four weeks ago, but now we've pretty much run out,” Edmiston said. “We're still getting stuff in every day or two, but where we were getting cases at a time months ago, now we're talking boxes. It might be six boxes, eight boxes, 20 boxes. We take whatever we can get.”
He has begun keeping some ammunition back for his classes and selling what's left to people who plan to use it on site, he said.
Retailers from big box stores, such as Wal-Mart, Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain, to gun shops are limiting ammo sales to one or two boxes per customer per day.
“We tried hard not to do that for a long time,” said Gander Mountain spokesman Jess Myers. “But our competitors were increasingly limiting customers to a certain number of boxes, and ultimately we had to follow suit. It became a matter of fairness to our customers.”
Even then it's hard to keep ammo on hand. A clerk in the North Huntingdon Wal-Mart said he stocked 18 100-round boxes of 9 mm handgun ammunition one day last week. They sold in a couple of hours.
“I've never seen anything quite like this,” said Eric Scheirer of Bethel Park, who runs the practical shooting competitions at McDonald Sportsmen's Club. “There have been election years when maybe one gun or one item or one caliber became an issue and that made it hard to find.
“But this time around, you can't find anything. It's just ridiculous.”
Even police departments feel the pinch.
Monroeville police Chief Steven Pascarella typically orders ammunition a few months in advance — buying in August, for example, what his officers would use for training in October and throughout 2014.
“Instead, I'm ordering it now in hopes that we can get it in by the time we need it. Our suppliers told us to prepare for some lead time,” Pascarella said.
Ironically, fears about big government and possible laws limiting firearms sparked the mad rush.
Stories and online chatter about the Homeland Security Department and the Social Security Administration buying up ammunition prompted hoarding, rumors and conspiracy theories about the government preparing for war against the American people.
Tim Brandt, spokesman for Federal Ammunition, said the company got so many inquiries, it finally put a statement on its website noting that “the Department of Homeland Security contract makes up a very small percentage of our total ammunition output.”
Overall, “our production volumes on government contracts have been stable since the mid-2000s.”
Likewise, Hornady Manufacturing reassured shooters that it sells only about 5 percent of its output to the government.
The real story behind the ammo crunch is demand from the average American consumer, said Mike Bazinet, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade organization representing hunters and shooters.
“The number of firearms being sold has gone way up, so the number of people who want to go to the range and shoot their firearm has gone up, and that's driven demand way up. And that's what this is — supply and demand,” Bazinet said.
In the eight years when George W. Bush was president, the FBI did about 76.8 million background checks on firearms purchases. It has done about 70.2 million in the four-plus years since President Obama took office. That includes about 19.6 million last year, an all-time high since the system's creation in 1998.
Background checks exceeded 2 million in a month for the first time in November, after Obama's re-election. They reached a record 2.78 million in December, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.
They've topped 2 million every month since. Through March 31, the FBI did more than 7 million background checks on firearms purchases. If that pace continues, the total number would reach a staggering 28 million-plus by the close of 2013.
Gun owners attribute that to talk of gun control legislation and a general feeling that the Obama administration is anti-Second Amendment.
“I would say that our Salesman-in-Chief in Washington has to get a lot of the credit,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. “We all know what's happening and why.”
Many recent gun buyers are newcomers looking for handguns, Edmiston said.
“A lot of them are people who maybe had a hunting rifle, but never had a carry pistol. Or they're people who have never had a gun at all and have decided they might need something for home defense,” he said. “They're not necessarily what you'd consider gun people.”
Manufacturers try to provide the ammunition needed.
“Remington is at full capacity at this time, in a majority of categories of ammunition. We are continuing to look at how to increase capacity and supply” distributors, said spokeswoman Jessica Kallam.
Hornady said it is producing “much more than last year, which was a lot more than the year before.” It added people, space and machinery over the past five years to increase production capabilities.
“I do know our manufacturers' plants are working very hard, around the clock, and trucks are rolling to retailers and suppliers,” Bazinet said. “But when things are going to get caught up, I don't think anyone can say.”
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.
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