LIMA — Gun enthusiasts fearful of new weapon controls and alarmed by rumors of government hoarding are buying bullets practically by the bushel, making it hard for stores nationwide to keep shelves stocked.
“People who normally shoot 50 rounds a year are buying 5,000 rounds,” said Karl Beining, of Ottawa Ordnance.
The ammunition shelves at the Ottawa gun store were mostly empty last week.
It was the same story down the road at Tri-R Guns, where Ron Deatrick said he has people coming into his store from all over the state looking for ammunition.
The shortage isn't a local phenomenon.
In mid-January, two days after New York became the first state to toughen laws after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, hunter and target shooter Mark Smith spent $250 to stockpile ammunition, including $43 for a brick of 500 .22-caliber bullets, commonly used for target shooting and hunting small game.
“I had a feeling there was going to be a huge ammunition shortage,” said Smith, browsing shotgun shells last week at Dick’s. “Especially .22s. It’s probably the most popular round out there.”
Likewise, the .223 ammunition used in popular semi-automatic rifles is hard to find.
At Hunter’s Haven, a strip-mall gun shop in the farming community of Rolesville, N.C., north of Raleigh, clerk Dean Turnage said ammunition is going out “as fast as we can get it in,” even though new gun controls are not on the state’s agenda.
The run started in November with President Barack Obama’s re-election, followed by the mass shooting in December of children in Newtown, Conn., which led the president to launch an effort to strengthen federal gun controls and several states to tighten their laws.
Deatrick and Beining said they have seen such runs before but nothing like this.
“Give it a year and it will be back to normal,” Beining said.
Deatrick was less optimistic.
“It will be two years before it works itself out,” he said. “All the ammo that can be made in 2013 has already been sold.”
Beining said ammunition makers are working around the clock to try to meet the demand.
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, Conn.
“There’s a concern by firearms owners that this administration will pursue bans on products, bans on ammunition,” he said.
A survey conducted last week by Rasmussen Reports bears this out.
The polling company found 44 percent of likely voters believe it is somewhat likely the government will try to confiscate all privately owned guns over the next generation. The survey also found 64 percent of Republicans expect a gun grab and 41 percent of all voters think the federal government should maintain a database with the name and address of all gun owners in the United States.
A government conspiracy?
Some government critics attributed shortages to federal purchases of bullets, accusing officials of trying to hoard a billion rounds and disarm the populace.
“Department of Homeland Security and the federal government itself is buying up ammunition and components at such a rate, it’s causing artificial shortage of supplies for the regular consumer,” said Jesse Alday, a Connecticut corrections officer who was buying a couple of boxes of primers at Hunter’s Haven.
“They’re buying it up as fast as they can, for reasons they’re not officially willing to admit or go into. … They’re not willing to come up with any answers as to the reasons behind why they have enough ammunition on the U.S., on our own home soil, to wage a 25-year war,” he said. “That’s kind of strange.”
Keane, whose group includes manufacturers, said the reports of massive federal purchases were not true.
The government routinely buys products in bulk to reduce costs, and Homeland Security has said the latest purchases are no different.
In 2012, 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 various department agencies.
The major U.S. manufacturers are running shifts around the clock to try to meet increased demand, Keane said. The foundation projected $1.5 billion from ammunition sales in 2011 and $2.8 billion from gun sales, totals that more than doubled in a decade.
Stockpiling also has been fueled by false online rumors, such as one that purports a coming five-cent tax on each bullet, which would triple the cost of a .22-caliber cartridge, said Hans Farnung, president of Beikirch’s Ammunition, a retailer and wholesaler in Rochester, N.Y., that sells in seven states.
“I don’t want to call them doomsdayers, but people get on these blogs on the Internet and they drive people’s fears,” Farnung said. “They do not want to wait around and see.”
The tax rumor was fueled by proposals in Connecticut, California and Illinois that haven’t advanced.
This isn’t the first U.S. run on ammunition. Walmart’s Kory Lundberg said the retail chain previously rationed in 2009, the year Obama entered the White House. However, sportsmen and tradesmen say the current shortages are nationwide and the worst they’ve seen.
“I can’t buy supplies anywhere,” said Bruce Martindale, a champion marksman from upstate New York.
Like many competitors, he has cut back on practice but says he doesn’t see a public safety concern.
“This is legitimate gun owners buying,” he said. “I don’t think criminals are stockpiling.”