Fear of new gun laws results in ammunition shortages

Historic shortfalls have forced some gun stores to close

Demand for firearms and ammunition has surged since last year's Newtown, Conn. massacre.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Fears over stricter gun-control laws similar to those adopted in New York and Connecticut after last year’s deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have resulted in increased gun sales and, subsequently, a devastating shortage of ammo for gun shops across the United States.

Michael Hamm's gun store near Nashville, Tenn. is now a dental office. He is one of several area dealers who have been forced to close due to ammunition shortages. 

"People were walking in saying, 'I want all of that, how many boxes of nine millimeter do you have?' Well, I've got twelve, 'I want them all,' and I'm like 'ok this isn't good' because I'm a small shop and I replace the same day what I sell," Hamm said. 

Hamm explained that the ammo shortage negatively impacted his business two-fold. 

"The gun industry is like every other industry, like the car industry,” he told Al Jazeera’s Jonathan Martin. “If you dry up the oil and you dry up the gas, then the car is no good. Well in the gun industry, if you dry up the ammunition and the components to the firearms industry, then people don't need the guns."

Demand for firearms, ammunition and bulletproof clothing has surged since the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown that took the lives of 20 schoolchildren and six faculty members. The shooting sparked calls for tighter gun control measures, especially for military-style assault weapons like the ones used in both that incident and last year’s movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.

Gun enthusiasts across the country said the ammo shortage is the worst they've ever seen. Many are traveling state to state in search of ammunition, with .22 caliber bullets the hardest to find.

Big manufacturers like Remington have factories running around the clock, but they’re still telling some clients that there is a six-month wait on orders. 

Even some larger gun stores are limiting customers to one or two boxes of bullets, or even restricting ammunition for target practice.

"We still haven't built up our inventory to the level where we would feel comfortable selling it to the public," said Kenneth Sanders of the Nashville Armory. 

Buford Tune, founder of the Tennessee Firearms Association, blamed the shortage on lingering fears of gun restrictions and even the reelection of President Barack Obama. 

"Sure there's a shortage, but it's a shortage because people panicking and running out and buying everything because they thought there wasn't going to be anything there," Tune said. 

However, Obama was unsuccessful in efforts to get federal gun laws -- that could have potentially included background checks among other provisions -- through Congress after legislation was scuttled by Senate Republicans backed by a small group of rural-state Democrats.  

Earlier this year, the governor of Connecticut signed a measure that added more than 100 firearms to the state's assault-weapons ban, created a dangerous-weapon-offender registry and instituted eligibility rules for ammunition purchases. 

On the state level, however, New York passed strict new gun laws in January that expanded a ban on military-style weapons, required mental health professionals to report threats, limited gun magazines to seven bullets, taxed bullets and created a gun registry. It has been widely attacked by gun-rights advocates. 

"When the politicians start talking about 'we've got to get rid of guns, we've got to control this, we’ve got to control that,' that's when the panic gets new fuel for the fire," Tune said. 

Still, some gun industry analysts said the high demand for guns will slow by the end of the year, and that could be critical for business owners hoping to keep their shops open.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press 

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