Published DateBy Daymond Steer
Local gun shop owners say they are having more difficulty than ever keeping a healthy stock of ammunition on hand but one gun shop owner is confident the shortage will end this summer and another says the market is starting to "thaw."
They say an insatiable demand for ammo is apparently a major driver in an extreme shortage of the normally ubiquitous .22 Long Rifle bullets – a low-powered caliber that's relatively cheap and commonly used for target shooting and pest control. Other rounds, particularly 9mm, are also scarce.
The shortage caused a customer of Village Gun Store, in Whitefield, to provide owners Stan and Sandy Holz with T-shirts that say: "No... I don't have any damn .22 ammo." Stan Holz said the shirts were made in good fun but the shortage of ammo is more acute than he's ever seen in nearly 40 years of doing business.
Holz says the high demand is a mixed blessing because it's great for his bottom line but it's hard to keep customers happy when he has to tell them the products they want are out of stock. He'd rather see demand stay on an even keel.
"I don't like saying 'no' all day long," said Holz. "It's stressful."
White Mountain Firearms owner Chris Kanzler and Wayne Marshall at Freedom Market, in Freedom, have also felt the pinch of a tight ammo market.
"I've never said 'no' to so many people in my life," said Kanzler whose shop is located in North Conway.
Marshall said before the shortage a "brick" of .22 LR, or 500 rounds, would sell for between $25 and $29. Not too long before that, a brick could be had for $10. Marshall said he's talked to people who have recently paid $100 for a brick. He's sold bricks for $35 to $40.
The gun shop owners have responded to the market by limiting the amount of ammunition customers can buy at once.
"We can't let one person buy up everything we have off the shelf," said Kanzler. "That's not fair."
Kanzler and Holz say that the cause of this shortage is huge demand in the consumer market. Kanzler said he's seen shortages before – such as one back in the 1990s — but never this severe. Kanzler said last winter, in less than a week, he sold 70 cases, each containing 440 rounds of .556.
"It was an eye opener," said Kanzler.
The gun shop owners said the demand really spiked upward after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., because gun enthusiasts began worrying about new laws that would be imposed. Holz recently sold 20 cases, meaning 20,000 rounds of .556 ammo in one hour even after he imposed limits on customers.
Kanzler also said the manufacturers' production plans are also a factor in the overall supply. For instance, one company closed down its .22 LR production and focused on a different type of ammo. Then, when .22 LR became highly sought after, they took workers off of shotgun production and had them start making .22 LR again.
Marshall says something appears to be interfering with the distribution system for ammunition. Marshall says the shortage is making some people "nervous and paranoid." Marshall is concerned about what happens if the shortage drags on and on.
"All I know is we have a major problem here," said Marshall adding more and more people are getting upset about this issue at a time when they are already stressed about the economy, crime and politics.
Right now, there are people buying guns who never thought they'd own one and now they are having a hard time getting ammo, said Marshall. He added actual gun crime is lower than it's been in years.
Marshall, who has been in business for nearly 30 years, says he can't predict when the shortage will end. Marshall also said that the shortage applies to classic deer rounds like the .30-30 and also to Russian rounds like 7.62X39. Marshall says he's in better shape than most gun stores because he also sells other things like food and fishing gear.
Marshall said the federal budget sequester could be a factor because there might not be enough inspectors to examine cargo that includes imported ammunition.
"This is not a local phenomenon," said Marshall. "This is going on across the entire country."
Holz is confident that the ammo bubble will burst in a matter of weeks. Holz has been in business for nearly 40 years.
Meanwhile, Kanzler hopes Holz is correct and says Holz has wealth of experience in the industry. Kanzler, himself, is seeing a slow "thawing" in the market. Holz doesn't believe the shortage is being caused by the government buying large quantities because the government started buying in bulk well before the shortage occurred.
"When doesn't the government buy tons of ammunition?" said Holz.
Gun store owners suggest that people look around for good deals and resist the urge to feed into the price gouging that's out there.
Tim Thompson of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office said he was able to get almost all the ammunition on his list this year besides some handgun ammo that's still on backorder. In contrast, he had no problem getting ammo in 2012. As a law enforcement officer, Thompson buys from law enforcement ammunition distributors.
"I happened to time it right," said Thompson.
On a personal level, he says it's frustrating not to be able to find .22 LR at the store. The sheriff's office uses .22 LR in some training exercises, particularly with new deputies, because it's cheaper than .556.