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Gun owners around Las Vegas, U.S. rushing to buy ammunition

Gun enthusiasts across the nation are still buying bullets practically by the bushel if they can get them in those quantities, but in Las Vegas some stores are limiting customers to one or two boxes per day, local gun store owners said Thursday.

They reacted to reports out of New York state and Connecticut that the frenzy is driven by concern for new weapons controls in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 students were killed, and by rumor mills about government hoarding of ammunition.

“We’ve had runs on ammunition going on the last six months,” said Bob Irwin, owner of The Gun Store on East Tropicana Avenue. “It’s hard to come by, and we’re limiting people to one to two boxes of what we’ve got.”

He said suppliers are so short on ammo that “we may get only 40 percent of what we order from a distributor.”

He said he limits customers to buying “one or two” boxes of ammunition per day. “If we don’t, somebody will buy it all and take it to the gun show.”

Irwin said a shortage of copper, an ingredient for brass cartridges, has increased the cost of ammunition combined with a shortage of other components such as primers and gunpowder.

He also expressed concern about the possibility that gun and ammunition imports could be curtailed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, noting about half the guns and ammo in the United States is imported.

A spokesman for Mark Cole, owner of Guns and Ammo Garage on South Dean Martin Drive, said boxes of 9 mm and .223-caliber rounds “are very hard to get.”

“All the ammo they get is going to their indoor range. They’re not selling ammo at this time,” said the spokesman, Steven Miller.

Likewise, ammunition is in short supply in the hunting department at Bass Pro Shops, in the southwest Las Vegas Valley.

“I can hardly get any,” said one store employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t allowed to speak publicly for Bass Pro Shops.

“We buy from such suppliers at Remington and Winchester. They tell us they just can’t produce enough ammo. It’s not just in the state of Nevada, California is worse than we are,” he said.

For .38-caliber rounds, he said the store only has hollow-point, home defense loads available for about $25 a box. “I have no target loads, nor have I had any for a week,” he said.

News of the ammo-buying frenzy comes as Nevada lawmakers are considering a bill to levy a sales tax on guns and ammunition, in addition to holding firearm sellers liable for actions of their buyers if sellers don’t conduct background checks similar to those conducted by licensed dealers.

The bill in the Judiciary Committee by Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, would outlaw what Horne called “armor piercing” bullets.

The ammunition, referred to in Nevada law as “metal penetrating” ammunition, is already illegal to sell or manufacture in the state if it can be fired from a handgun.

Assembly Bill 234 would levy a fee of $25 per gun and 2 cents for each round of ammunition, with the money going to mental health programs and victims of violence.

The bill, one of many dealing with firearms in the 2013 legislative session, would impose civil liability on people who sell guns and don’t do background checks and the weapons are later used to cause harm.

The bill would grant immunity from liability to sellers who conduct the appropriate background check.

At a 24-hour Walmart in suburban Albany, N.Y., the ammunition cabinet was three-fourths empty this week; sales clerks said customers must arrive before 9 the morning after a delivery to get what they want.

A few miles away, Dick’s Sporting Goods put up a red rope after ammunition deliveries so buyers can line up early to get a number, averting races up the escalator to the gun counter. Both stores are limiting ammunition purchases to three boxes a day.

The government routinely buys products in bulk to reduce costs, and Homeland Security has said the latest purchases are no different.

Last year, the department put out bids for a total of about 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next five years. The rounds are to be used for training, routine weapons qualification exercises and normal duty by department agencies.

On a smaller scale, some local law enforcement agencies are also having problems getting ammo.

Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Bill Cassell said the department is “seeing some increase in the delivery time for resupply orders.”

“It varies from order-to-order and round-to-round,” he said. “It’s taking longer to replace the ammo.”

Nonetheless, Las Vegas police have an adequate back stock of ammunition. “It’s not impacting our day-to-day operations,” Cassell said.

He said the department has started to limit the number of practice rounds for officers “not because we’re out, but a few years down the road, we don’t want to be out.”

Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, said the agency was still waiting on rifle and shotgun ammunition ordered in November.

In Phoenix, the Police Department has stopped providing officers with 100 rounds of ammunition per month for practice.

The nation’s 100 million firearms owners are driving the market for some 10 billion rounds annually, with demand and gun purchases both increasing the past several months, driven partly by fear that tougher laws will restrict the ability to buy firearms, said Lawrence Keane, whose National Shooting Sports Foundation is based in Newtown.

“There’s a concern by firearms owners that this administration will pursue bans on products, bans on ammunition. … It’s not limited geographically to New York or anywhere else. It is nationwide,” he said.

Review-Journal Capital Bureau writer Sean Whaley and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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