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.
Manufacturers say they’re producing as much ammunition as they can, but many gun store shelves are empty and prices keep rising. Ammunition imports are way up, but at least one U.S. manufacturer is exporting ammo. All while the pandemic, social unrest and a rise in violent crime have prompted millions to buy guns for protection or to take up shooting for sport. “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. 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.
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.
“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.
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