With about a week to go before the Obama White House proposes new nationwide gun restrictions, U.S. retailers are noticing a dramatic run on ammunition. At Bass Pro Shops in Independence, Kan., customers would typically find at least 1,000 boxes of handgun ammunition in stock: today, says one sales associate, the sporting goods superstore has about 10. In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, an ammo scramble is taking place across the country: lawmakers in Washington are preparing for an extended debate over new gun-related legislation, and gun owners are stocking up on goods they fear could be banned.
The cycle is well-established: a deadly shooting leads to calls for more gun control, which in turn leads to hoarding. “We can’t even keep the ammunition on our shelf,” says Doug Leeper, the Bass Pro Shops employee. “It seems like it’s going just as fast as we get it.” He says that while they’d usually expect a post-Christmas bump of about 20%, in recent days sales have surged up to 90% over the previous year’s. At a Wal-Mart in Billings, Mont., sales associate David VonRohr says the store can’t even get certain calibers from their normal suppliers. “It’s been nuts,” VonRohr says. “The phone’s been ringing off the hook.” At a Cabela’s in Gonzales, La., nearly all the ammunition is backordered, one employee says.
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Online ammo shops are struggling to meet demand, too. Visit the website for Brownell’s, which claims to be “the world’s largest supplier of firearm accessories,” and shoppers will find row after row of products labeled “Out of Stock.” Especially barren is their supply of rifle magazines, the 20 or 30-round holders used for semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15—a weapon used by alleged Newtown shooter Adam Lanza. In a Dec. 20 statement attributed to Brownell’s President in an online forum, Pete Brownell apologizes for the delay on orders and says the company had sold the equivalent of 3 1/2 years of magazines in 72 hours.
Legislators such as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who authored a ban assault weapons like the AR-15 in 1994, have made calls to outlaw the weapons again. Vice President Joe Biden is meanwhile heading a task force to present the White House proposals for curbing gun violence. The December shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead may provide gun-control advocates with enough political capital to get new legislation passed, a feat that’s been thwarted by lobbying outfits such as the National Rifle Association for years.
Meanwhile, those people working the counters at sporting good stores are going to have busy days. “We’ve being trying to keep up, and it’s been a challenge,” Leeper says. “Let’s just say I’ve got a lot less hair.”