Bullets fly off store shelves over purchase limit fears

The Kansas City StarMarch 28, 2013 

The caller wanted to know whether Lloyd Cook had any 9 mm ammunition in stock.

“I asked him how much did he want,” said Cook, owner of an Independence gun range, “and he said, ‘All of it.’”

Across the country, bullets are flying off store shelves as people stockpile ammunition.

The big question: Why?

“There is no good answer for this,” said Kevin Jamison, a Gladstone lawyer and spokesman for the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance. “Panic buying seems to account for some of the shortage, but I don’t believe it can be all of it.”

Some point to concerns that the government might limit ammo purchases in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Others blame the Department of Homeland Security, which has a big purchase in the works.

The rush to buy isn’t rational, said Larry Swickard, a member of the Western Missouri alliance.

“But it seems to be having a ripple effect in that when people see a significant number of people buying up all the ammo they can find, they follow suit for fear of being left out with none for themselves,” Swickard said.

“Maybe we are just doing this to ourselves.”

And, as always happens when demand shoots up and supply bottoms out, buyers are paying a dear price.

Before Christmas, Cook said, you could buy a brick of .22s — 500 rounds — for $18. “Now I’m hearing people paying $60 or $70 for one,” he said.

Retailers still can’t keep those small-caliber bullets in stock.

“We haven’t got any .22 calibers — we’re out,” Cook said. “I don’t know who has any. Anytime anyone gets some, customers buy ’em up within a day.”

Wal-Mart stores are limiting sales to three boxes per customer per day. The amount of ammunition in each box varies by caliber, a Wal-Mart spokesman said, such as a 25-count box for 9 mm bullets and a 50-round box of .45s.

At Blue Steel Guns & Ammunition in Raytown, the ammo truck rolls into the parking lot on Fridays. Last week, a crowd of customers was waiting for the shipment, and all 60 boxes of .22-caliber and 9 mm ammunition — thousands of rounds — were gone in 18 minutes.

“They never even made it to the shelves,” said owner Steve Brackeen. “We just had enough time to slap a price on them and sell. And we ran out before everybody in line got some.”

Brackeen isn’t complaining. Business, he said, is good. While customers wait around for the ammo to arrive, “they are buying up everything.”

A year ago he had no trouble keeping his display cases and gun racks full. Now, the cases are sparser and “quite a few” racks are empty.

Gun sales and concealed-carry permits have jumped since Barack Obama was elected — and re-elected — president. After Sandy Hook, Obama unveiled a gun control proposal that includes universal background checks, bans on assault weapons and elimination of armor-piercing bullets.

But Jamison said he knew of no active proposals for federal legislation that would limit the amount of any other type of ammunition a person can buy at one time.

And then there’s Homeland Security’s plan to buy more than a billion rounds of ammunition.

“My understanding is these are standing, not necessarily take-delivery, orders,” Swickard said. “But the fact that Homeland Security, and the government in general, has offered no reasonable explanation for such huge purchases would be more than enough to fuel the fears of those inclined to see conspiracies behind every change in a routine.”

Homeland Security officials have said the ammunition contract is nothing more than routine business. The bullets, ordered in bulk over five years, are used in the training of about 70,000 agents and officers employed by the 90 agencies included within the department.

Some police departments have expressed doubts that they’ll have enough ammo to allow officers to keep up with their annual range qualifications.

For its part, the Kansas City Police Department is pretty well stocked, Sgt. Marisa Barnes said.

“Our range staff anticipated this and did some creative ordering.”

The supply side isn’t likely to catch up with demand anytime soon.

“We are sold out for 2013,” said David Shaw, marketing director for Fiocchi, an international ammunition manufacturer with a plant in Ozark, Mo.

Fiocchi added an extra shift to increase production, but Shaw said the plant can’t get in front of the demand.

This isn’t the first time Shaw has seen a spike in demand.

“But it has never happened to this degree,” he said. “Industry-wide, we are not able to keep up.”

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