Assessing the Great Ammo Shortage of 2013

I interrupt my series of posts reflecting on the 2013 NRA annual meeting and exhibits to assess the great ammo shortage of 2013.

Even before President Obama made it clear he would push hard for gun control, there was a run on guns (especially AR-15 style modern sporting rifles) and magazines. Many people observed this, including me in my post on a gun show in my hometown following the massacre at Sandy Hook.

Since many of those who are concerned about a gun/magazine ban already own (often many) guns, the critical shortage in ammunition strikes me as a bigger problem for gun owners/shooters at this point. After all, it doesn’t matter how many guns you have, without ammo they are just very expensive blunt objects.

This really hit home to me when I stopped by a local gun range on a Friday afternoon and was met with absolute silence. It was the first time I have ever gone to a gun range that was completely empty. The owner joked about my getting past the ghost guarding the door, but it was very much gallows humor. He said that his concealed carry class was full for the next day, and the gun shop in the range had AR-style rifles, plenty of Glocks, and other guns (though almost no used guns — people are not selling right now obviously). But people are not shooting as much (if at all) recreationally or for practice.

walmartToday I decided to stop by 3 stores that sell guns and ammo in a town near me to see what the ammo shortage looks like on the ground. I went to Wal-Mart around 8am and was greeted by mostly empty shelves (pictured above), except for some hunting rifle calibers and a good supply of shotgun shells (for which the price had gone up only slightly). I was surprised to see a couple of boxes of Winchester white box 357, so I bought a box of 50 for my friend to use in her S&W revolver. Cost was $31.67. Unfortunately in my excitement I (and apparently the Wal-Mart sales clerk) didn’t realize that it was 357 SIG not 347 Magnum. Since ammo is not returnable, I need to find a friend who shoots 357 SIG or I just bought an ugly paperweight.

My second stop was at a local fishing and hunting outfitter that also sells guns and ammo. Things here were even worse than at Wal-Mart as evidenced by the sign on their (closed, locked) door:

davie outfittersThird stop was at the only pure gun store in town. They had some ammo for modern sporting rifle calibers in stock (7.62, 5.56, 223), and even a few boxes of 9mm. I couldn’t help but pick up a box of Winchester white box, even though the price is 50-75% higher than pre-Sandy Hook pricing.

winchester white box 9mmInterestingly, to show that their prices were not out of line with “market” pricing, the shop had posted next to the 9mm ammo a photocopy from the Cheaper Than Dirt web site showing their prices. Of course, there is a movement afoot in the gun community to boycott Cheaper Than Dirt, but it did serve to put their prices in some context.

cheaper than dirt 9mmI noticed that the shop had 4 AR-style rifles chambered in .22LR at prices not much higher than pre-Sandy Hook, so I asked the gun shop owner about the availability of .22 ammo. He said it comes in periodically and they sell it when it does. I asked about pricing for bulk boxes, and he said when they get bulk boxes they are opening and repackaging them in 100 round packs for $12. So, effectively $60 for a box of .22 ammo that used to be $15-$20. At those prices, no wonder few people are shooting.

In addition to the gun ranges, I wonder what effect this is having on the training community? My friend and I took Massad Ayoob’s MAG-40 class in November 2012 and burned through over 1,000 rounds of 9mm between us. The cost of ammo certainly drives the cost of training up, but even if one was willing to accept that additional cost there is simply the matter of finding 500-1,000 rounds of ammo to use.

That there is no ammo on store shelves and yet fewer people are shooting and those who shoot are shooting less clearly suggests that hoarding is going on. The hoarding of ammo that is currently going on is a good example of what sociologist Robert Merton called “unintended consequences” of action. No one in the gun culture wants to make ranges and training suffer, but by hoarding ammo they are doing just that.


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