The Ammo Shortage of 2013

We have seen the enemy, and it is us

Ammo Pic

I’ve been a gun writer for more than 20-years now, and during that time I’ve developed some excellent contacts in the firearms and ammo industries. Recently, I talked to some of these folks and asked them about the ongoing ammo shortage that’s still keeping avid shooters and weekend plinkers alike from doing what they love: sending lead down-range. I learned that though there are a number of different factors contributing to the current ammo shortage, the main reason there’s a shortage is because there’s a shortage. In other words, we’re in the midst of an old-fashioned panic.

Some shooters locate the blame for the current state of affairs in DC, and conspiracy theories abound about the government buying up all the ammo for one shady reason or another. But those theories are wrong, according to the ammo makers I’ve talked to. Sure, the post-Newtown rush to “Do Something!” may have created the climate of fear and uncertainty that initially sparked the current panic, but that panic has now taken on a life of its own and is feeding back into itself. At this point, everybody is panic buying because everybody is panic buying, which means that the shortage won’t stop until the panic subsides.

Ammo makers: won’t get fooled again

You might think that the ammo makers are having a field day with the panic buying, but surges like this aren’t quite the windfall that you might think they are for the ammo industry.

The ammo makers are turning out ammo as fast as they can, some of the big name ammo makers I’ve talked to are literally running 24/7. They’re also adding more machines and training more personnel to try and meet the demand. But in ramping up capacity, they’re taking on more risk. When the panic dies down, demand could tank, and then the layoffs will start and all that new capacity will go idle. If this happens, then the ammo makers will have wasted millions in buying machinery and training people to use it. The only way to recover that investment will be to raise the prices on ammunition — something we don’t want to see, nor do they want to do.

Some smaller ammo makers have already fallen by the wayside because they can’t get enough raw materials and components to keep up with demand. The biggest shortages we are seeing right now is .22 LR and 9mm, and many makers can’t come up with the brass, primers, bullets, and powder to make any more of these popular ammo types. And the shortages are getting worse with each passing day. Many ammo makers have been forced to raise their prices because the cost of components have risen, especially copper for making bullets. Some other ammo makers that I know have gone above and beyond to seek out components, and because they were forced to pay more they in turn had to raise prices. But they only raised their prices by the amounts they are having to pay to get the needed components.

My sources tell me that if things stay the way they are, that it will be between 18 months and 2 years before they can catch-up on back orders. And this is assuming that things don’t take a turn for the worse. All we need is another mass shooting or terrorist attack and there will be more talk of gun and ammo controls, which will bring on another round of panic buying, longer waits, higher prices and more shortages.

While local gun shops have been enjoying a brisk run on guns and ammo, they don’t like the shortages any more than you and I do. My local gun shop was down to a dozen handguns not too long ago, and couldn’t find any from any of their distributors. Luckily, the supply lines have started filling up again, but only for some guns. (I understand that Ruger has a backlog of 2 million guns, and I heard that GLOCK has about a million guns on back-order — it will take them a while to get caught-up, as some guns are in more demand than others.) The ammo shortage is hurting gun shop owners, because when a gun shop does have some guns to sell, people aren’t buying them because there isn’t any ammo to available for them. I mean, really? Why purchase a gun if you can’t find any ammo for it? Not a good situation at all.

There are some on-line and mail-order companies who have taken advantage of the shortages, especially in regards to ammo, and are charging outrageous prices. I won’t mention names, but one is getting a very bad reputation on the Internet, and a lot of people, myself included, will no longer do business with them. Sure, they have ammo, because they had the money to stock-up on hundreds of millions of rounds. But who in their right mind is willing to pay more than a buck a round for 9mm low-grade ammo these days? Well, that’s what one place is charging, and as much as $3.00 per round for common (not premium) JHP 9mm ammo. When you find a place like this, don’t do business with them. You can find ammo if you spend the time looking, and, needless to say, you will be paying more, but there’s no sense in getting ripped off by a greedy on-line or mail-order company taking advantage of the situation.

The solution: stop hoarding ammo

I took my crystal ball out, and most of the time it is working properly, and my prediction is that I honestly don’t know if things will ever go back to being normal in the ammo world if we don’t change our buying habits. Look, if you don’t absolutely need ammo, then don’t buy it right now. Give the ammo makers a chance to make some kind of attempt at catching-up with the demand. I have absolutely cut back on the number or rounds I use in my gun test articles. I used to burn through 500 rounds or more in my tests, but these days, I’m cutting back to around 200 rounds for a gun test. And, if your local gun shop or big box store has a limit on the number of boxes of ammo you can purchase at one time, then only buy that much – don’t send your wife, husband or friends in to buy more ammo for you, because that’s only hurting us all. Gun shops don’t like rationing ammo, either — it’s something they have to do these days, so they will have ammo for all their customers.

Yes, I understand, no one wants to get caught with their pants down, and not have enough ammo. But then again, can you define what “enough” ammo is? Let’s see if we can’t turn the tide, and start buying ammo the way we used to: slow down, and don’t hoard it.

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