While much of the world was focused on the great toilet paper famine that hit back in March, another hot commodity was flying off the shelves: guns and bullets.
Different factors combined to make buying common ammunition in various calibers a challenging task. The demand also made it tight for some hunters this year.
“It’s a nationwide shortage that started about six months ago with COVID, then there was the riots and now we have an election coming up,” said Richard Taylor manager of the Guns N Gear store in Idaho Falls. “The manufacturers shut down for a time because of COVID, and the pipeline became empty, and it hasn’t really caught up to the demand. It was like a perfect storm with all these things happening at once.”
Taylor also said gun sales are higher than ever with 40% of sales going to new owners. The tight market for ammo has also made shooting ranges and classes a bit more challenging.
The FBI reports that background checks for new guns sales skyrocketed to 1 to 2 million above last year’s background checks. June background checks, for example, totaled 3,931,455 compared to 2,312,309 for June 2019. Total background checks through September 2020 have already surpassed all of 2019. Photos on Twitter have shown gun buyers lined up around the block at one Los Angeles gun shop. Idaho Falls stores report brisk gun sales. Licensed firearms dealers are required to send background checks through the FBI to make sure purchasers are not convicted felons or have other issues barring them from gun ownership. Private gun sales are not required to perform background checks.
Fueling the buying binge is anxiety about the coronavirus, nationally publicized protests over police shootings and uncertainty about what an election will bring.
“I would guess that anytime some political story changes or the winds of some rumors happen, people go out and hoard all that stuff,” said Sgt. Bryan Lovell of the Bonneville County Sheriff’s department. “I’ve never seen any situation where somebody had to go use it all other than for recreation. So, far the zombies haven’t come after us.”
While Al’s Sporting Goods reports pallets of ammunition disappearing in less than a day, police departments say so far, their bullet needs for practice shooting and officer needs are being met as departments order in bulk and well in advance.
“We’re fine,” said Jessica Clements, spokeswoman for Idaho Falls Police Department. “The person that does our ordering for ammunition did say that it has been slow and harder to get this year. He put an order in and it takes longer to fill it or it comes in partials. It’s just taking a little longer this year.”
Law enforcement officers depend on bullets. Besides the rounds they carry with them, they also are required to qualify with their guns periodically at shooting ranges.
“We have qualifications and practice that we do periodically through the year and on a fairly regular basis,” Lovell said. “We‘re a big agency too. We‘re just short of 200 people we have to qualify. It takes rounds to do it.”
Buckrail online news reported recently that Jackson, Wyo., police are feeling the bite. Police Chief Michelle Weber said her department is getting ready to put in an order now for next year and doesn’t expect bullet deliveries for some eight to 10 months.
“Bottom line is the department will always have enough ammo, but we’ve had to factor increased costs into the budget and make orders far ahead of time,” Weber said.
While police officers have plenty, some stores selling to the public report limiting quantity of some popular ammunition sizes, such as 9mm shells.
“What’s in demand? All of them,” said a spokesman at Ross Coin and Gun. “There’s not an ammo you can make a phone call and get it at all right now. You can’t get a box of .22 ammo, can’t hardly get any 9 mm, .380, .300 (Winchester Magnum). It’s made it tough for people trying to get inventory (for hunting). … Pallets and pallets just disappear so fast.”
Rick Owens, who operates the Skyline Gun Club, a shotgun shooting range west of town, said “it’s the same story” with shotgun ammo. He said much of his recent purchases have been foreign-made shells.
“The price is going up and the availability is becoming very limited,” Owens said. “There are gun clubs around that I have heard can’t get targets, can’t get ammo and things are really limited. Ammo is probably our biggest concern.”