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Bullets in short supply nationwide
Political worries have ammo in short supply for law enforcement
Cpl. Brian McNair and other officers practice at the Hall County Sheriff’s Office firing range. - photo by Tom Reed

Got a bullet to spare?

The nation’s widespread ammunition shortage has grown so severe that even cops have felt the pinch.

Deputies with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office who qualified on the firing range this week had ample ammunition, but the agency did experience delays of several months in getting it, Col. Jeff Strickland said.

Budget tightening, not a shortage of bullets, has reduced firearms qualifying from four times annually to twice a year at the sheriff’s office.

But elsewhere, gun owners looking for common handgun rounds often are coming up empty. Store shelves at big bullet retailers such as Wal-Mart at times have been barren, and mom-and-pop stores have imposed limits on their customers.

The election of a Democratic president, two wars, a deep economic recession and worries about new gun control legislation have all contributed to the shortage, gun dealers and industry officials say.

“The continued increase in demand for firearms is clear and is largely being driven by the political concerns of gun owners,” said Ted Novin, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

And with an increased demand for firearms comes an increased demand for the bullets they fire.

At Oakwood Sportsmen’s Lodge, common handgun rounds like the .22, .40 and .45 caliber are only available for shooting at the store’s indoor firing range.

“We’ve stopped selling ammunition to go,” firing range manager Walt Sippel said.

The .380 round remains the hardest to find, Sippel said, “followed by just about everything else.”

Fredy Riehl, who helps run the Web site, said U.S. military contracts were already keeping several of the larger ammunition manufacturers busy prior to November. Factor in the election of Barack Obama to the White House, and a fear of rising crime rates with an economy in the tank, and the result is rampant stockpiling.

“I would definitely say some of that is going on,” Riehl said. “Instead of buying 1,000 rounds, people are buying 5,000 rounds. I’ve heard folks say they bought them off the pallets of the trucks.”

Some gun owners fear the Obama administration will try to restrict their rights. Some also point to a bill proposed by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, known as the “Blair Holt Bill,” that would require a firearms license for anyone who owns a handgun.

But political observers give the Blair Holt Bill little chance of passing. A similar bill died without support in 2007 and the current bill, introduced in January, doesn’t have a single co-sponsor.

Sippel notes that the political reactions of gun owners tend to be cyclical.

“This happened with Bill Clinton, and it happened with Jimmy Carter,” Sippel said. “When the Democrats get in office, a lot of people have a perception that they’re anti-gun, and they take that and run with it.”

At Shuler’s Great Outdoors, general manager Jon Lipscomb said pistol rounds have become more available in recent weeks, though he still hasn’t had a box of .380 for sale since Christmas.

In the last few weeks, customers have been limited to 100 rounds per purchase on most of the standard handgun rounds.

One side-effect of the shortage has been an increased interest in crossbows, Lipscomb said.

“A lot of people just like to go out and shoot, and during this time our archery business has skyrocketed,” he said.

Novin says ammunition manufacturers are working at full capacity, seven days a week, and evidence suggests the temporary shortage should end soon.

Lipscomb said he’s already seen improved supplies.

“It looks like we’re slowly coming out of it,” he said. “From what I’m hearing, within three to four weeks there should be a surplus.”

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