Gun Stores Start To Feel Pinch As Ammo Flies Off Shelves

The panic buying of toilet paper and cleaning supplies that have temporarily left store shelves bare is also starting to be seen in gun stores around the country, and it may soon have an impact on the availability of some common types of ammunition in the days and weeks ahead.

On Twitter, I asked folks who’d gone shopping in the past 24 hours to chime in and report on what store shelves looked like while they were in their local gun store. Plenty of people reported back on bare shelves, particularly for 9mm and .223/5.56 rounds.

Certainly that wasn’t the experience of all who replied. Several gun owners reported back that their local stores were still fully stocked.

Scott Ayers, the owner of Farmville Sporting Goods in Farmville, Virginia, says he’s been told by several distributors that ammunition is now being allocated to stores, which means that gun store owners like him can’t simply call up and place an order for whatever they want. Instead, he and FFL’s will have to work through the local reps for the distributors, who in turn will likely have to ration out orders for the time being to ensure that every store gets at least a little ammo to restock their shelves. It’s important to note that this is solely because of the high demand for ammunition, and not because of any production issues. Right now, 9mm is to gun stores what toilet paper is to grocery stores- probably sold out, but with resupplies on the way.

The good news is that the ammunition supply chain here in the United States relies primarily on secondary sources for the lead in bullets. Rather than import primary lead from China, manufacturers in the U.S. tend to rely on reclaimed lead, like those found in car batteries. As the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Mike Bazinet explained back in 2014, when the last lead smelting plant in the United States closed, ammunition supply wouldn’t be effected.

Spokesman Mike Bazinet told us for this fact-check that “almost all the lead used in ammunition in the U.S. comes from secondary sources, recycled car batteries and other sources of lead. The closing of the lead smelter has not had any effect on ammunition prices or availability. … Lead for bullets comes from secondary sources, and that was not completely understood by people out there. We certainly tried explain that it’s had virtually no effect on ammunition prices.”

While some ammunition is imported to the U.S. from overseas, “it would be pretty heavy stuff to send (lead) across the ocean and put into a bullet. There are secondary sources of lead in sufficient quantity in the United States.”

Tom Falone — president of Clearwater-based Florida Bullet, which supplies ammunition to law-enforcement agencies in Florida — said its manufacturer has been using reclaimed lead for years.

So, is the surge in ammunition sales going to lead to empty store shelves, or just temporary limits on how much ammunition stores can purchase? Any shortages aren’t likely to come about as a result of problems getting component materials, but labor issues related to the spread of the coronavirus. If factories are forced to close for a period of weeks or even a couple of months, that could have an impact. Some localities may even try to take a page from what’s being done in Italy and Belgium and close all businesses, with limited exceptions for places like grocery stores and pharmacies. That would not only impact ammunition manufacturers, but gun stores as well.

For the moment, production and distribution of ammunition is still happening, and stores are being resupplied, though some common calibers are being limited because of the high demand. I can’t tell you what the restrictions in the United States will look like a week from now. We are living in The Great Unknown, unfortunately, and it’s difficult to peer through the fog of uncertainty and try to spot answers on the horizon.

My best guess (as of March 14th) is that we’ll likely see some spotty shortages in those common calibers like .22LR, 9mm, .45 ACP, and .223/5.56 over the next couple of weeks, but after that it’s just too difficult to predict because the answer, like so many other facets of our daily lives, depends on how well we’re able to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the coronavirus.