By Jill J. Easton
Have you stepped into a gun store and tried to buy ammunition lately? The shelves look like the day after a blowout sale, but tomorrow, next week, and next month the shelves will be just as empty.
“It is a matter of overwhelming demand,” said Mark Oliva, National Shooting Sports Federation Director of Public Affairs. “This year has been witness to record-breaking firearm sales. So far, there have been 15.4 million background checks for the sale of a firearm, eclipsing 2019’s sales and within 300,000 of the all-time record set in 2016, when background checks topped 15.7 million.”
Everybody is buying guns. Whether it is rioting in the streets, Covid related, or worries about our government, most Americans are afraid and want the ability to protect their families and property. Guns are the most personal and portable solution to many people’s perception of the bad times to come. Many of these frightened citizens have never owned a gun before.
Our 86-year-old, recently widowed neighbor, Edie, called yesterday and asked if Jim and I could teach her to shoot. Her husband owned guns and there are still some in her house. A defensive class instructor warned all the senior citizen participants that if they owned guns and didn’t know how to use them, they were putting themselves in additional jeopardy during a robbery. People who never thought of shooting a gun are taking action.
“NSSF surveyed retailers and learned that 40 percent of the sales this year have been to first-time gun buyers,” Oliva continued. “That translates to nearly 6.2 million new gun owners entering the firearm and ammunition market.”
Keeping a footprint of how much ammunition is sold is much harder to track than guns. Anyone can walk into a Bass Pro Shop, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Orschlin’s, or Academy Store and buy ammo in different calibers and gauges, and no forms are completed. Gun purchases are much more complicated and many require extensive background checks.
“I live in Virginia and ammo has been scarce since mid-March,” Mark said. “Some days the truck will pull up and ammo is simply left on pallets, inventoried and sold as fast as it comes in. It is so odd that the media has not caught on that there appears to be a serious uneasiness going on.”
Reports from Mississippi, Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, and Missouri all confirm that ammunition and guns are both hard to come by. People, people who have never considered owning guns before, are scared. Pistol ammunition is flying off shelves leaving new gun owners with guns and no ammunition to practice the basics of their weapon’s operation.
“Six million, two hundred thousand more people buying ammunition, enrolling in classes, renting range time, and purchasing accessories. That influx of new customers wasn’t predicted by anyone last year.” Oliva said. “Manufacturers are working as diligently as possible to meet that increased demand and they are balancing the decisions to meet the needs of today’s customers and benefit their long-term growth.”
Gun and ammunition manufacturers are in a difficult situation. If they add new production lines that cost millions of dollars and require hundreds of employees, and demand for guns and ammunition goes down in a few months as our world edges back towards normalcy, they are stuck with expensive employees and production equipment that is no longer needed.
What can a shooter or hunter do?
Buying ammunition is no longer as simple as driving to the local gun store, but there are ways to get the ammunition you need.
When traveling out of town, check stores in that area for ammunition. Many loads which are popular in one city, aren’t in short supply 100 miles away. Check independent gun stores not affiliated with national chains, they often have supplies of certain calibers that bigger stores may have sold out. Get several fellow shooters to share large amounts of ammo; if you buy thousands of rounds and split them, gun shops will often be happy to order 10,000 or more rounds and even offer a discount. Shop for ammo at gun shows and pawn shops; frequently private owners have died or stockpiled ammunition in certain calibers that are hard to find and are selling them. Consider loading your own shotgun shells or bullets.
Be prepared to pay a premium for some rounds as compared to a year ago. Lead and tungsten are no longer manufactured in the United States and foreign sellers are now subject to tariffs that substantially increase the cost of purchasing these metals.
We, the shooting public and the gun and ammunition manufacturers, are in a difficult situation, but it is probably a short-term one. Be resourceful, keep your powder dry, your eyes open for bargains, and hope for better times.