Where's the Ammo?
It is consumer demand that keeps supplies of ammo nationwide low—and prices high. To figure out why, you might ask your neighbor.
The NRA is regularly inundated with letters from members requesting an explanation of the nationwide ammo shortage. Some folks merely vent their frustration over the amount of ammo they are able to acquire for range sessions. Some complain about the jump in prices; they insist it can’t all be explained by supply and demand. Others are sure the government is buying up all the ammo so average Americans can’t get their hands on it. Everyone wants to know if we have any inside information.
Whatever you believe to be the cause for the shortage, the fact is ammo continues to be difficult to find. Store shelves are empty. If you’re lucky enough to find a few boxes, chances are either you or the person behind you in line will buy all that either of you can carry and stash it away like Private Pyle hides a jelly doughnut. So, is this the future of ammunition, or is there an end to the madness? I did my homework, and while my conclusions may not be the answers you’re looking for, they are at least based on fact.
Let’s start at the rumor mill. The Internet is awash with reports of large acquisitions of ammunition by government agencies, and the pot-stirrers ran with it: They insist “the government took it all.”
But as reported on the NRA Institute for Legislative Action website (nraila.org), much of the concern over these government purchases stems from a lack of understanding of federal law enforcement functions and the agencies tasked with performing them.
For instance, the Social Security Administration (SSA) employs 295 special agents tasked with combating fraud; this is a law enforcement function. These agents have the power to execute warrants and make arrests; they are required to carry firearms. The 174,000 rounds of pistol ammunition recently solicited by the SSA works out to roughly 590 rounds for each of the 295 agents for periodic training, mandatory quarterly qualifications and duty use.
At first blush, the 46,000 rounds of .40 caliber ammo requested by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) seems like a waste of money for a bunch of lab coats arguing about the rain. But the reality is that ammo is going to the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, a small outfit of 63 personnel who enforce marine importation and fishing laws. They carry firearms. It works out to about 730 rounds per officer per year.
But that’s only a drop in the bucket compared to the solicitation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for 450 million rounds of .40 caliber jacketed hollow-points over the next five years. At least one politician thought such an open-ended contract stunk enough to look a bit further. After receiving numerous questions from his constituents regarding the contract, pro-Second Amendment U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) got some answers. He issued them in a press release, explaining that the DHS contract covers the DHS Police Force as well as Customs and Border Protection, Federal Emergency Management Administration, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration, Citizenship and Immigration Service and more—roughly 65,000 law enforcement personnel combined. Crunch the numbers: 1,384 rounds per officer, per year.
So, while it’s true the government has purchased a lot of ammo, is it enough to empty store shelves? That leads us to existing supply and production, data for which ammo manufacturers hold close to the vest based on concerns regarding market competition. American Rifleman Editor in Chief Mark Keefe spoke with representatives of major ammo makers during the NRA Annual Meetings in May and was able to delve a bit deeper, albeit “off the record.” What he tells me mirrors the official responses I have received: “All of them reported they have their plants working full out, and all of them are shipping more ammunition than ever.”