Running out of ammunition War demands, gun owners' fears of new, stricter laws adding up to big shortage of bullets Thursday, April 2, 2009 3:16 AM By Tracy Turner
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Kyle Robertson | DISPATCH Dennis Halfhill of Columbus takes aim during target practice at the New Albany Shooting Range, which has only about 20 percent of the personal-defense ammo that it carried this time last year.
Kyle Robertson | DISPATCH Shelves of ammunition are growing bare at the New Albany Shooting Range. The range's store is starting to limit sales to two to four boxes of ammo a person.
Ammo in demand Gun-range operators and retailers say the following types of ammunition are most popular and often in the shortest supply:
• 9 mm
• 380 Winchester
• .40 Smith & Wesson
• .45 Automatic Colt Pistol
• .223 Remington
• .308 Winchester Firearms instructor Ron Herman can't seem to keep enough ammunition on hand for his monthly National Rifle Association pistol-training class.
An increase in demand for ammo and resulting shortages have caused the group for the first time to re-evaluate whether it will be able to hold the gun classes, he said.
"The ammo is being snapped up as soon as it comes in," the North Side resident said. "The potential for new gun laws has the Average Joe saying, 'I've got to get mine before the gun laws change and I can't get (ammunition).'
"It's kind of like that run on Elmo dolls. People are in a frenzy."
Bullets are running low throughout central Ohio as a nationwide ammunition shortage hits the area.
The shortage is the result of a confluence of events, industry observers say: a run on guns by consumers since the election of President Barack Obama, more ammunition being sent to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the increased cost of raw materials needed to make bullets.
Shelves are almost bare at some gun ranges and Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods locations. The demand is such that some retailers have begun to limit ammo sales.
"In the first three months of the year, we've already sold what we typically sell in an entire year," said Rex Gore, owner of Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware. Sales now are limited to a few boxes at a time, depending on the caliber, he said.
"We've never seen anything like this before," Gore said. "We've had spikes in demand before with other administration changes, after 9/11 and when people were preparing for Y2K, but nothing like this.
"It's taken us by surprise."
Reports are coming in from all over the country of a shortage of supplies as manufactures struggle to keep up with the increased demand, said Alexa Fritts, a spokeswoman for the NRA.
Gun owners are feeling threatened by the potential for new restrictive gun laws and the increasing loss of jobs that could boost the potential for crime, she said.
The group has warned its members, which number in the millions, that the Obama administration supports more-restrictive gun laws and wants to raise taxes on ammunition.
"Gun owners are very politically savvy, and this administration poses a risk to their freedoms," she said. "Add to that an economy that is struggling, which increases the chance of home invasions, and people want to be able to protect their families."
Gun sales have increased significantly since the November election, as indicated by the 31 percent increase in FBI firearms background checks performed since then.
More than 4.2 million background checks were performed from November through January, compared with 3.2 million performed during the same three-month period a year earlier, according to federal records.
Despite Obama's statement that gun control is not a big issue for his administration, conservative pundits have continued warning of the potential for more-restrictive gun laws, said Paul Beck, a political-science professor at Ohio State University.
The move is a fundraising and member-mobilization tactic, he said.
"Conservative interest groups do the best when liberals are in charge, and liberal interest groups do best when conservatives are in charge," Beck said. "You can understand the NRA taking this as an opportunity to strengthen their organization.
"It may be more rabble-rousing than reality."
Nonetheless, ammunition such as 9 mm and .45-caliber bullets for semiautomatic pistols and .38-caliber bullets for revolvers seem to be the hardest to find, said Rich Vance, owner of Vance's Shooters Supplies on Cleveland Avenue. Another glaring shortage is for .223- and .308-caliber rifle cartridges, he said.
The increased demand has also led to higher costs, Vance said.
"Depending on the brand and the caliber, bullets now cost between $5 to $15 more per box," he said.
The New Albany Shooting Range is carrying only about 20 percent of the personal-defense ammo the store carried this time last year, said Bill Peck, a salesman at the retail store and gun range.
The shortage really hit within the last month, said Claire Marvin, president of the New Albany store. His store has limited sales to between two and four boxes to "ensure everyone can get some," he said.
"We've had to be more diligent in our purchasing procedures and are now calling around to distributors daily, sometimes twice a day, to see what they have and when they could ship it," Marvin said.
He said he's received indications from manufacturers that more supplies will start being shipped next month.
"No one was really prepared for this demand increase," he said. "We all kind of got flat-footed."