Pandemic & firearms sales fueling shortage of ammo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with record firearms sales, is fueling a shortage of ammunition in the United States.

Z. Farhat is the manager of Green Acres Sporting Goods on the Westside. He said the supply of ammo has been running slower than normal since the beginning of the pandemic, but said it was beginning to pick up the pace in spring.

Within the last three weeks, he said, supply has started running low again, and he’s having a hard time stocking a variety of bullets.

“The more popular calibers are the hardest to get, but it’s really everything,” Farhat said. “Pistol ammo, rifle ammo, stuff for hunter and shotgun ammo.”

COVID-19, Farhat said, is also an issue at the production line.

“If one person in that place where the ammo is being manufactured gets sick, they have to shut down and sanitize. People don’t think about that. So they’re closed for a week or two while the demand is constantly growing,” Farhat said. “That happened with a lot of our manufactures.”

Farhat says the COVID factor combined with the a demand is putting on a strain on the supply. A demand fueled by national worries of violent crime and uncertainty.

The shortage is also impacting law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Doug Tangen, firearms instructor at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, the police academy for the state, said the academy also has had trouble 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.

Officer Larry Hadfield, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said his department also has been affected by the shortage. “We have made efforts to conserve ammunition when possible,” he said.

Locally, the sheriff’s offices in Clay, Nassau and Duval counties say they have not been affected. The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office told News4Jax it ordered a year supply of ammo before the start of the year and just received its order last week. The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said it too was affected, but didn’t specify how.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, says more than 50 million people participate in shooting sports in the U.S. and estimates that 20 million guns were sold last year, with 8 million of those sales made by 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.”

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System database also documented an increase in sales: In 2010, there were 14.4 million background checks for gun purchases. That jumped to almost 39.7 million in 2020 and to 22.2 million just through June 2021 alone.

The actual number of guns sold could be much higher since multiple firearms can be linked to a single background check. No data is available for ammunition because sales are not regulated and no license is required to sell it.

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.

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