Before Patricia Kukull opened the doors of Superior Shooters Supply on Tuesday morning, she had already seen enough.
"Panic buying is never good," she said. "It disrupts everything. This may be the third or fourth time this has happened, but you want a store that's stocked. You want to be able to plan. I know that sounds backward, but we want enough ammo for everybody."
That's not the case, however, as locally ammunition has been disappearing fast. The Northland is beginning to mirror the country as a whole as buyers begin to gobble up weapons and ammunition as state and federal guidance advises isolation away from even modest-sized groups amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There is indeed a shortage," Kukull said. "It started two weeks ago. We knew it was coming. It didn't start here as much as the East Coast."
Handgun sales have also been strong, she said, spiking in the last couple of days as the vice of the pandemic tightens around a wary population.
An employee at Fisherman's Corner in Pike Lake wouldn't go on record after the owner left for the day, but they confirmed ammunition and AR-15-style weapons sales were brisk.
In Cloquet, Mike Frisk was experiencing a spike before a storm at his appointment-only gun shop, Gunrunners. He explained why good sales now could mean lean times later.
"It’s pretty good right now," he said. "I've got a big selection of handguns left and I’ve got three or four ARs on the shelf right now with another three coming sometime this week. I'll be all right, but it can change in a day."
Frisk sold out of 3,000 rounds of 5.56 mm ammunition in 45 minutes the other day. The 5.56 mm caliber is used in the military version of the .223-caliber AR weapon.
"I'm trying to get more of it in, but a lot of it's gone; 9 mm ammo, most of that's gone; AK-47 stuff is nonexistent at wholesalers," he said, describing a dwindling inventory of Glock handguns, AR rifles and handguns, and extended magazines.
"Very little can be ordered," Frisk said. "It's pretty much day-to-day — what they get in for the day."
This week, the Los Angeles Times reported a surge in gun sales.
"The bigger cities usually get hit before we do," Frisk said.
He expects a good relationship with his wholesaler representative will keep him in relatively good stead. The reps are now working from home, he said, as wholesalers offices are emptied.
"I don't know what that means for the warehouses," Frisk said, surmising that the initial rush to buy arms amid the COVID-19 outbreak will ultimately yield to a slower gun market.
"It's going to slow down my sales, because I just won't be able to get it," he said. "I'll get some stuff here and there because of the wholesaler I've got. But I would imagine it's going to slow down everything."
Kukull recalled similar panic buys in the gun market following the two elections of President Barack Obama, and other peaks associated with political debates over gun control measures. She remembered a inexplicable crush a few years ago on .22-caliber rimfire cartridges that left shooting supply shelves barren of the prized ammo.
"It went on for a year," she said. "I'm hoping this will calm down and not last as long."
It's not just ammo and the guns that are being impacted. The required background checks on firearms sales aren't processing as swiftly as usual.
"The system can only handle so many people, and it's really gotten backed up," Kukull said. "You might have to wait a week or more. It has nothing to do with the customers' backgrounds; it only has to do with the system being overwhelmed."
This story originally contained an incorrect listing of the 5.56 mm caliber shell. It was updated at 8:55 a.m. March 18. The News Tribune regrets the error.
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