Due to record-breaking sales of firearms, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shortage in ammunition in the United States. This is affecting law enforcement agencies, hunters, and people seeking personal protection. It could also impact recreational shooters and hunters.
Although manufacturers claim they are producing the most ammunition possible, many gun stores have empty shelves and prices continue to rise. While ammunition imports are on the rise, at least one U.S. company is still exporting ammo. All the while, the pandemic, and social unrest have caused millions of people to purchase guns to protect themselves or take up shooting as a hobby.
“We have had a number of firearms instructors cancel their registration to our courses because their agency was short on ammo or they were unable to find ammo to purchase,” said Jason Wuestenberg, executive director of the National Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association.
Doug Tangen, a firearms instructor at Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (the state’s police academy), said that the academy has also had difficulty obtaining ammo.
“A few months ago, we were at a point where our shelves were nearly empty of 9mm ammunition,” he said. In response, instructors took conservation steps like reducing the number of shots fired per drill, which got them through several months until fresh supplies arrived, Tangen said.
A spokesperson for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Larry Hadfield said that his department was also affected by the shortage. He stated that they have tried to conserve ammunition whenever possible.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association representing the industry, more than 50,000,000 people are involved in shooting sports in America. It estimates that 20,000,000 guns were sold last year with 8 million being first-time buyers.
“When you talk about all these people buying guns, it really has an impact on people buying ammunition,” spokesman Mark Oliva said. ”If you look at 8.4 million gun buyers and they all want to buy one box with 50 rounds, that’s going to be 420 million rounds.”
According to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System database, there was an increase in gun sales. In 2010, 14.4 million background checks were performed for gun purchases. This number jumped to nearly 39.7million in 2020, and to 22.2million by June 2021.
Because multiple guns can be linked to one background check, the actual number of guns sold may be higher. Because ammunition is not regulated, and therefore no license is required to be sold, there is no data available.
As the pandemic raced across the country in early 2020, the resulting lockdown orders and cutbacks on police response sowed safety fears, creating an “overwhelming demand” for both guns and ammo, Oliva said. Factories continued to produce ammunition, but sales far exceeded the amount that could be shipped, he said.
“Where there is an increased sense of instability, fear and insecurity, more people will purchase guns,” said Ari Freilich of the Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
As supplies dwindled, Feilich said, some gun owners began stockpiling ammo.
“Early on in the pandemic, we saw people hoarding toilet paper, disinfectant, and now it’s ammo,” he said.
Wustenberg emphasized the danger in first-time gun buyers not being able to practice using their new weapons.
Going to the gun range entails more than trying to hit a target, he said. It’s where shooters learn fundamental skills like always pointing their guns in a safe direction and keeping their fingers off the trigger until they’re ready to fire.
“It’s that old adage: Just because you buy a guitar doesn’t mean you’re a guitar player,” Wustenberg said. “Some have the misconception of ‘I shot this target 5 yards away and did just fine so I’m OK if someone breaks into my house.’ You’ve got to go out and practice with it.”
The U.S. military is not affected by the shortage because the Army produces ammunition for all branches of the military at six sites across the country, according to Justine Barati, spokesperson for the U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command.
The U.S. shooting team, which won four medals at the Tokyo Olympics, also had the ammo needed to train thanks to a commitment from sponsors, but membership and junior programs have struggled, said Matt Suggs, chief executive officer for USA Shooting.
The U.S. Biathlon Team, which is training for the 2022 Winter Olympics, has also been provided with ammunition by Lapua, a Finnish sponsor. Max Cobb, president, U.S. Biathlon Association, stated that local clubs are facing shortages.
Jason Vanderbrink is a vice president of Vista Outdoor, which has the Federal, CCI and Speer ammunition brands. He said that the companies ship ammo as quickly as possible.
“I’m tired of reading the misinformation on the internet right now about us not trying to service the demand that we’re experiencing,” he said in a YouTube video produced for customers aimed at quashing speculation suggesting otherwise.
According to Panjiva Inc.’s independent analysis, imports of ammunition from Russia and South Korea, as well as the European Union, were up 225% in the past two years. However, some U.S.-made ammunition is leaving the country.
According to Panjiva, Winchester has received 107 shipments in the past year. The majority of the shipments were to Australia as part of a contract Winchester had with NIOA (the country’s largest supplier of small arms). Nigel Everingham is the chief operating officer of NIOA. He said he couldn’t disclose how much ammunition Winchester supplies.
A few shipments also went to Belgium and Israel.
Meanwhile, most of the ammunition pictured on the website for Champion’s Choice, a gun store in LaVergne, Tennessee, is listed as “out of stock.”
“We keep ammo on order but we’re not sure when it’s going to come available, “sales manager Kyle Hudgens said. “It does put us in a bad position with our customers. They’re asking what the deal is.”
Bryan Lookabaugh, Renton Fish & Game’s skeet & trap range in Renton Washington — where shooters attempt to hit discs flying at 35-70 mph — stated that there is a limited supply and that some people couldn’t take part in a recent competition because of this.
“We have not had a full shipment in a year,” he said.
Duane Hendrix, range master at Seattle Police Athletic Association (a civilian and police gun range in Tukwila), Washington), said that he has now limited ammo sales to just two boxes per customer.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Hendrix said. “There’s stuff we can’t get, especially rifle ammo. If you don’t have ammo for your customers, there’s no point in having your doors open.”