With supply limited, Northland gun owners catch ammo angstAll Billy Freeberg wants to do is teach his boys to shoot, but like a lot of gun owners, he can’t get all the .22-caliber ammunition he wants.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
All Billy Freeberg wants to do is teach his boys to shoot, to do some target shooting in the backyard of his rural home in Pike Lake. But like a lot of other gun owners, he’s can’t get all the .22-caliber ammunition he wants.
Handgun and .22-caliber ammunition is hard to come by these days. Supplies are tight. Demand is high, spurred by an increase in gun sales and, after the Sandy Hook school shooting, concerns over potential new gun-control legislation. Stores can be sold out of ammunition for days, and when a shipment comes in, retailers often limit the amount each customer can buy.
Freeberg has been visiting Fisherman’s Corner in Pike Lake with his girlfriend, Dorothy Bernard, nearly every day, hoping to find .22-caliber ammunition.
“We were told one box per person per day,” Freeberg said. “We’ve been getting our two boxes per day.”
Scott VanValkenburg, who owns Fisherman’s Corner, says demand for ammunition has been intense.
“This is probably the most dramatic I’ve seen it,” he said. “We have customers coming in every day to buy one box a day… When Mr. Obama gets in and starts talking, people start buying guns. We sold a lot of handguns, so we’ve got that many more people shooting. …
“(Talk of gun control) is the best advertising I’ve had. We’ve had customers from Virginia and all the outlying areas that we’ve never had before.”
Pat Kukull, owner of Superior Shooters Supply in Superior, also said the current run on ammunition is driven by politics.
“We have gone through this before with different elections,” Kukull said. “But I’ve been here for 35 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this — ever.”
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At Gander Mountain in Hermantown, ammunition customers must take a number on days when a new shipment arrives. They’re served in order, two boxes of ammo per person.
An ammunition shipment arrived Thursday at Gander Mountain. Randy Steele of Hermantown had been at the store when it opened, hoping to get ammunition for his .38-caliber, 9mm or .45-caliber handguns. At 1 p.m., he was still waiting for ammunition.
“I’ve been trying for three months, all the way up to International Falls,” Steele said. “I can’t get it. Nobody has it.”
Target shooting at the United Northern Sportsmen’s Club on Island Lake is down because of the ammunition shortage, said Kevin Stern, vice president of the club.
“It’s affecting everybody,” Stern said. “People are causing it themselves. As soon as the stores get it in, people buy all they can get. They’re hoarding it.”
Firearms sales were up 27 percent in April compared to last April, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. This is the 35th straight month that sales have increased compared to the same period in previous years.
Much of the demand for guns and ammunition grew from gun owners in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting last December and subsequent talk of gun control in Congress, Kukull said.
“It progressed from AR(-style) guns to 30-round magazines to ammunition,” she said. “Once that started, it kind of fed on itself …
“I hate to use the word ‘fear,’ but I don’t know how else to explain it. They want this ammo. I try to calm people down, but I’ve basically given up.”
When she does get a shipment of .22-caliber or handgun ammunition delivered by her wholesalers, it’s often gone within two days. Another shipment might not arrive for a week or 10 days, she said.
“There is no question that firearms owners have been concerned about the possible passage of state or federal legislation that could restrict their ability to buy ammunition, so they have taken the opportunity to buy extra ammo,” said Mike Bazinet of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The Internet is rife with rumors that government agencies are buying up ammunition. But Bazinet disputes that.
“The demand is consumer-driven,” Bazinet said.
The demand for .22-caliber ammunition has grown in part, Kukull believes, because firearms manufacturers have recently come out with handguns and AR-type rifles that use less-expensive .22-caliber ammunition rather than .223-caliber ammunition. But demand for handgun ammunition in larger calibers also is up, and retailers can get only a fraction of what they want from manufacturers.
“When I order 50 cases of 9mm (handgun ammunition), I get one case,” Kukull said.
Ammunition manufacturers have ramped up production in trying to meet demand, Bazinet said.
“They are running extra shifts and extra days,” he said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that they’re running 24/7.”
Gun and ammunition retailers are on the front lines where demand meets supply.
“We do see lines of people on the day shipments come in,” said Jess Myers, spokesman for Gander Mountain in St. Paul. “There’ll be a line outside the store. For a time, we did not place limits on quantities, but in the interest of fairness and to serve as many customers as we can, we’ve instituted a limit of 10 boxes per person.”
A box typically contains 50 individual shells.
Kukull said she limits sales among her customers, too.
“We’re rationing,” she said. “Sometimes I’m down to 50 rounds of .22 ammo (per person). Sometimes I’m up to 100. Five hundred is what they expect to buy. We’re allocating not to be mean, but so the little kid can go shoot.”
Although she’s paying more for some ammunition, Kukull said she hasn’t raised her prices.
“I have to, hopefully, look at these people down the road,” she said.
Reloading up, too
Some shooters have always reloaded their own ammunition. Now, with the ammunition shortage, many more have gotten into reloading. To do so, they must buy several pieces of reloading equipment, plus components such as shell casings, gunpowder and bullets.
“The reloading — holy cats!” VanValkenburg said. “I had a lot of inventory, and it got decimated. People said, ‘I’m not going through this again.’ ”
Superior Shooters Supply has seen the same trend.
“Everyone got up one day and decided to get into reloading,” Kukull said. “Now, nationwide, you see a reloading surge like you’ve never seen. People — I witnessed this — were delving into their IRAs (retirement funds) and buying reloading components. I wouldn’t make this up.”
Sales of gun safes, locked cabinets in which people keep guns, also have increased, she said.
“At the (Duluth Boat, Sport, Travel and RV) show in February, I sold a lot of gun safes,” Kukull said. “More than I’ve ever sold.”
Manufacturers of gun safes couldn’t keep pace with demand, she said. Many of the safes that customers bought from Kukull at the boat show just arrived a week ago, she said. Sale of the safes was spurred by the Sandy Hook school shooting, she believes.
“They want to protect their firearms, and they don’t want the wrong people to get into them,” she said.