Local gun shops are struggling to keep ammunition on the shelves, in what some shop owners are calling the worst shortage they’ve seen. The reason for the surge in sales, though, seems hard to pin down.
“Oh yes, it’s affected everybody,” said Thomas Gagnon, manager of the Alstead Gun Shop. “Right now it’s pretty much across-the-board; the only exception in terms of good availability is shotgun ammo.”
As a result, the Alstead Gun Shop has started imposing limits on how much ammunition a customer can buy at once, Gagnon said.
“If we only have a small amount of one caliber, we might limit customers to one box, and most everybody understands that we’re making sure everybody gets a fair shot at the product,” he said.
When President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, and again following his reelection, gun sales surged nationwide, as some feared legislation would limit the types of guns people could purchase. After the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December, where a gunman killed 26 people — including 20 young children — fears again swelled and firearms sales soared as people sought to protect themselves while also stocking up ahead of potential legislation restricting sales of assault weapons. (Local shop owners say they haven’t seen any measurable effects from the violence in Boston last week.)
Now it’s the ammunition in short supply.
Bruce A. Pelletier, owner of Pelletier’s Sports in Jaffrey, says the shortage may be feeding itself.
“It creates a big demand, the shortage,” he said. He questioned whether gun owners are fueling it by buying ammunition in mass quantities because they fear not being able to get it.
“Customers have been buying it all at once. We’ve been at the point to limiting it (to) one or two boxes per person, so at least that more than one of our customers can have some.”
In 44 years of business, Pelletier can’t recall ever seeing an ammunition shortage this bad, he said.
“None of my suppliers have an answer, either,” he said.
Stanley “Pal” Borofsky, owner of Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, which has stores in Brattleboro and Swanzey, agrees.
“There’s such a broad spectrum of people who have guns and pistols and rifles, there’s just not a way that suppliers can produce enough to satisfy the demand,” he said, adding that he thinks the perception of the shortage is creating more demand than the actual shortage.
At Sam’s, the ammunition shortage has been so bad that imposing a limit hasn’t been an option.
“We haven’t had any ammunition that we can limit,” he said. “People are calling on a daily basis. I’m sure eventually it’ll be opened up a bit. ... I guess the shortage brings needs to people who normally would not be worried about it.
“I’ve been here since 1957, and I’ve never seen the shortage (this bad),” he said. “I think (Congress) is creating an atmosphere of fear, and I’m not so sure they need to or don’t need to.”
At Highlander Arms in Chesterfield, sales associate Tyler E. Boucher said the shop is having trouble keeping a steady supply of certain ammunition calibers, including .22, .223, 9 millimeter, and 5.56.
“Most of the NATO cartridges ... approved for international use for military and law enforcement use worldwide, those tend to be the ones, because there’s such a demand globally and nationally for those calibers,” he said.
But that doesn’t explain the .22 caliber shortage, Boucher said.
“That’s typically used for plinking and backyard shooting, but has also been a caliber that can be purchased in bulk,” he said. “People have said, ‘If I can’t get my hands on these other cartridges, what can I acquire that will allow me to have a supply and continue to shoot?’ “
Some store owners also say rumors that the federal government is buying up ammunition in bulk could be part of the clamor. (Government officials say they’re planning to buy 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next five years for law enforcement training exercises because it’s cheaper to buy in bulk, according to the Associated Press.)
Boucher believes the “prepper” movement has also played a role in the shortage, as more people stockpile supplies in the event of a large disaster.
“I think one of the things that’s interesting from a psychological standpoint is the prepper movement has become more widespread and somewhat of a cultural phenomenon nationally,” he said. “People go to one of two extremes: bury their heads in the sand or preparing for World War III. I think people need to remain level-headed and consistent.”
Most retailers interviewed, though, believe the market will eventually level out and return to normal.
“The market does a good job correcting, but it takes some time,” Boucher said. “Things kind of happen in waves. After Newtown, people’s primary concerns were, ‘I need to get a firearm,’ and we saw the types (that people purchase) transition to handguns, and then we’re seeing, ‘Now what do I need? I need ammunition.’ It’s kind of like gas prices; I don’t know if it’ll ever go back to what it was, but I do think it’ll relax, and I think we’re starting to see that.”