With nationwide demand for firearm ammunition outstripping manufacturers’ supply, empty shelves in Nevada gun stores have some consumers sweating bullets.
On delivery days at the Bass Pro Shop in the Silverton, 20 to 30 customers will line up for the store to open, said Keith Rainey, an assistant manager in the hunting department.
“They call us up every day to find out when the next load is coming in,” Rainey said. “If you don’t get there early, you don’t get any bullets.”
John Lowrie, a sales representative at Discount Firearms on Highland Drive, said it’s the same in every store.
“We don’t even stock to-go ammo on our shelves anymore. We get just enough to keep our range running,” Lowrie said.
Lowrie said even the big retailers are hit-or-miss.
“If you go to Wal-Mart you’ve got two hours after they unload until they’re basically cleaned out,” he said.
The shortage applies to all calibers, but the hardest to stock has been for handguns, Rainey said.
Specifically, ammunition for your general “home protection” rounds.
“From the .380 up to the .45, those are the hardest to get,” Rainey said. “Everybody in the world is looking for those.”
A NOVEMBER TO REMEMBER
The scarcity of ammunition is part of a trend that began immediately after the presidential election, retailers say.
Gun enthusiasts, concerned with perceptions that Barack Obama and a Democrat-controlled Congress would increase gun control measures, began buying firearms and ammunition at an astounding rate.
Because sales rose so quickly, manufacturers struggled to meet the new demands, said Ted Novin, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industries.
“I’m in daily contact with manufacturers, and they’re all at full capacity,” Novin said. In other words, as much supply as can be produced, they’re producing it.
According to the Department of the Treasury’s most recent Firearms and Ammunitions Excise Tax Collection Report, firearm and ammunition manufacturers paid $109.8 million in excise taxes in the first quarter of 2009, up 43 percent from the same quarter in 2008.
All manufacturers are required to pay a 10 or 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition produced, which makes the tax one of the most reliable ways to track firearm and ammunition sales in the United States, Novin said.
A second key indicator is the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS Checks.
In November, NICS checks were up 41.6 percent versus November 2008, and have been up month-to-month since the election, indicating that firearm sales are still booming.
“Those numbers are beyond outrageous when you consider the recession,” Novin said.
A TEMPORARY PROBLEM
Although demand is extraordinarily high, and manufacturers are running at full capacity, more plants haven’t been opened to supplement the need.
The reason, analysts say, is because manufacturers don’t believe the demand is being driven by natural economic need, but something else.
“It’s customer paranoia,” Rainey said, “in our new president.”
Novin said that is the general sentiment among manufacturers.
Setting up a new manufacturing plant is both costly and difficult; ammunition and firearms are two of the most highly regulated products in the world, he said.
And because the demand is being driven by political concerns, manufacturers are not eager to pull the trigger on what most consider to be a temporary phenomenon.
“That’s a good reason not to just set up shop and go through the extraordinary process and expense that comes with building another plant,” Novin said. “And in a year or two, when things slow down, there’s a good chance they’d have to shut it down.”
Al Russo, a spokesman for Remington, said the company has added an extra shift for workers and is doing everything possible to keep up with demand.
He declined to speak about specific business strategies.
“To build an ammunition plant takes a lot of money, and that’s as simple as I can put it,” Russo said.
One of the misconceptions about the ammunition shortage is that increased demand from the military has shifted production priorities away from the commercial industry, Russo said.
That’s largely myth. The military uses its own manufacturers, for the most part, and only a few “double dip” in both arenas, he said.
“They basically buy it from themselves,” Russo said. “There’s a big difference between commercial and military ammunition.”
Novin concurred: “I can tell you with certainty that this demand is completely driven by consumers,” he said.
SECOND AMENDMENT COSTS
Even with a nationwide shortage, retailers and manufacturers say they haven’t seen a drastic increase in prices.
Lowrie and Rainey said prices in their stores have remained stable over the past eight or nine months, and Russo said Remington hasn’t raised prices.
The only place costs have skyrocketed have been at gun shows, where sellers have jacked up prices to take advantage of the paranoia, said Robert Smith, president of the Nevada State Rifle & Pistol Association.
At a Reno gun show in April, Smith said people were hauling out bullets on hand trucks.
“It was a feeding frenzy,” he said. “People were stacking boxes of ammunitions, five or 10 cases at a time, paying two or three times more per box.”
The demand at the gun shows has gone down since the high point in April, Smith said, but the tension is still high.
“Liberals are talking about restricting types of ammo, reinstituting the assault weapons ban,” he said. “So people keep stocking up.”
Outside the Las Vegas Gun Show at Cashman Center on Saturday, Craig Brown of Las Vegas was one of those doing the stocking, in the trunk of his car. Brown said he bought as much 9 mm ammunition as he could afford, which tallied almost $300 worth, he said.
Brown said he often has trouble finding ammunition from retailers, which is why he decided to buy more than usual on Saturday.
“I figured that I may as well do it all at once,” he said. “I probably paid a little more … But otherwise it’s been a hassle.”
Novin said there has been anecdotal evidence to show that supply is beginning to catch up with demand.
A lot of it is because manufacturers have been working at full capacity for several months, he said.
“We’re hearing (demand is) slowing down out here (on the East Coast),” Novin said.
And without significant legislation from Congress, the “paranoia” may have worn off a bit, he said.
But in Nevada, a gun-friendly state, consumers have yet to see the shelves being replenished, Brown said.
“Maybe someone could show me where to go to get bullets,” he said.
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.video, slide show