The ammo shelves in Chuck Scott's gun store are just starting to fill back up again.
For the last several months, the owner of The Gun Rack on Richland Avenue has had difficulty keeping his shelves stocked with certain kinds of ammunition, and Scott and other retailers said it's the same at every gun and ammo store across the country.
“We've had extreme shortages since the election,” Scott said, adding that the most popular (and least available) calibers are 9 mm and .22.
Just down Richland Avenue at The Jewelers Loupe, president and CEO John Finley said the same two calibers, in addition to .380, sell out “as soon as we get them.”
“Within a matter of a couple days, it's gone,” he said. “We're at the mercy of the distributors. They don't even know when they're gonna get a shipment. We just keep calling and ordering, and then it finally shows up.”
Demand for guns and ammunition nationwide has cleaned out stores and lead to waiting lists, lines and limits on the amount of ammo a person can buy.
“Right now, I have a little bit of .22, and I have a two-box limit per customer per day of the .22,” Scott said. “You can buy other stuff, but I'm only going to sell you two of the .22 so we can spread it out.”
'The perfect storm'
Scott and Finley said the shortage stems from citizens' fears of the government confiscating their firearms.
“This whole thing we're in now, it was kind of like the perfect storm,” Scott said. “You had the election, and then the day after the election you had anti-gunners talking about, 'Now we're going for gun control.' That's what pro-gun people had been believing for the first four years of Obama – he's only waiting until he wins re-election, then we're gonna have gun control.”
Two weeks after the Thanksgiving weekend, which Scott said is a huge selling period for gun stores, a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
“The day after the Newtown shooting, you had Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo talking about possible forced buybacks,” Scott said. “Someone said, 'Governor, isn't that confiscation?' And he said, 'Call it what you will.' That is what threw the gasoline on the fire.”
Finley said people get scared and buy extra ammo out of panic.
“It's kind of like around here, we get an inch of snow and you're not gonna find any milk or bread at the grocery store,” he said. “… Everybody's just afraid the government is going to get bigger and take away our rights. They're wanting to go ahead and get it while the getting's good.”
The fear, ammo shortage and increasing prices are a self-sustaining cycle, the business owners said.
“When someone goes to the store and they try and buy (ammo) and can't, the next time they see it available, they buy way more than they would have,” Scott said.
Some people are buying a brick of ammo that normally costs between $35 and $45 and reselling it at gun shows for more than $100, according to Scott.
“When someone pays that money, it just enhances the gouging,” he said. “The person that was gouging originally is gonna do it over again.”
With such high demand for guns and ammo, one might think the gun store business is booming. Wrong.
“We had it very good, but now we can't get product,” Scott said, adding that November and December were great business months. “There are days that we don't sell much of anything if we don't have certain calibers of ammo.”
Finley said business is picking back up after slacking for two months.
“Everybody says, 'Wow, y'all should be making a killing,'” he said. “Well, no, you're not, because you go back there and I don't have hardly any handguns. Or, we do have some but it's not what everybody's looking for.”
The manufacturers and distributors are doing their best to keep up. Scott said he spoke with his Glock representative this week.
“She said they're making guns hand over fist as fast as they can, but nobody's going to add new equipment, new production capabilities,” he said. “They're just going to work people three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Eventually, this will get caught up. Hopefully, it will get caught up.”
Finley said gun and ammo stores typically don't profit much from ammo sales.
“It's not like, 'Sell it all and be happy because you made this big profit,' because you didn't,” he said. “It's just kind of a service, really. You make a few dollars but it's not much.”
Finley said his store gets product by calling distributors multiple times per day – and catching them at the right time.
“We quit saying, 'Have you got a Smith & Wesson .38 Bodyguard?' We just said, 'What do you have?'” he said.
Chris Medlin, who teaches a concealed carry permit course, said the ammo shortage has rippled into his class. In 2007, he would ask students to bring 150 rounds to the course; they would use 50 rounds on training, 50 on a practice test and 50 on the actual test.
“When the 2008 election came up, everybody went nuts buying ammo because they're afraid of what the incoming administrations might do regarding guns and all that,” he said, adding that he dropped the number of rounds down to 100 – 50 rounds for training and 50 rounds for the test.
Following the last election, Medlin said ammo shortages and prices forced him to drop the number of rounds down to 50.
“That has decreased the quality of class I'm able to teach,” he said. “It also increased the cost for every customer.”
Medlin said he's concerned about a move by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to purchase more than a billion rounds of ammo.
The department plans to purchase 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next four or five years, The Associated Press reported in February. It says it needs them – about the equivalent of five cartridges for every person in the United States – for law enforcement agents in training and on duty.
“There is really no telling what they're gonna do,” Medlin said. “If they continue buying ammo like they are … then a lot of people have the opinion that the Feds are buying up the ammo so private citizens can't buy ammo.”
The shortage is even hitting local police departments. A police chief in Proctor, Minn., found his department's ammo supply so low he asked the citizens in his city to help, according to KARE 11, the NBC News affiliate in Minneapolis.
“It's affecting everybody's safety, potentially,” Medlin said. Unlike Scott and Finley, he's not as optimistic about the shortage catching up.
“I'm concerned at whether it is or not,” he said. “I just hope the ammunition manufacturers start doing what they can to get more ammunition out to the citizens and tell the Feds to just wait.