Sanford gun dealers contend with nationwide ammunition shortage

Jul. 23, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

People who walk into gun stores around Lee County looking for .22-caliber ammunition will be lucky to walk out with much, if any, of the ammo.

At Kendale Pawn Shop on Monday, only a handful of small boxes of various types of .22s remained on the shelf, and owner Johnny Whiteside said he limits customers to one box per visit. At K&L Gun Sales, owner Kevin Dodson said he limits customers to two boxes per day. The caliber is among the most common and popular types of ammunition.

Whiteside said he has a reserve in the back so he can give multiple boxes to people buying .22 caliber guns. But in order to keep up that system, he said, he was forced to enforce the quota for everyone else. It's not unlike the system he deals with himself, due to a national shortage.

In an article published about 15 months ago, Guns and Ammo Magazine addressed rumors of .22 shortages with incredulity. But, the magazine said, anything is possible: "In a business as political as the gun and ammo industry, sales spikes are common."

The situation that seemed silly then has now come true. Contributing to the shortage, according to data-journalism site Vox, is an all-time high in gun ownership, plus more gun owners stocking up on ammo than in the past. Some conspiracy theorists also claim the government is trying to stock up on ammo for various nefarious reasons.

Consequently, "I can't just pick up the phone and order a box of .22 ammo like I used to," Whiteside said, adding that retailers will only sell him large quantities of the ammunition if he also buys a gun. And at gun shows or from online dealers, the same 500-round "brick" of .22 bullets that cost $15 a year or two ago now costs at least four times that much.

Dodson said people are so desperate for the ammo they line up at big box stores on days shipments are expected; he knows because he has had to resort to the same tactic himself sometimes. And when he does manage to secure a large shipment, he said, it flies off the shelves.

"We got 5,000 rounds in the other week, and it was gone in a few days," said Dodson, who is also a Republican campaigning for a seat on the Lee County Board of Commissioners. "We didn't even advertise it. It was just word-of-mouth."

Tim Jones at Wilrick Quick Cash Pawn and Donald Kelly at City Pawn Shop have smaller selections of guns and ammunition than Dodson and Whiteside, but they said they also have had issues with getting enough ammo, especially .22s of any type.

The shortage also has hurt gun sales, as buyers learn about the ammunition shortage and avoid .22 caliber rifles and pistols. Jones said more than half of the rifles Quick Cash Pawns now has in stock fire .22 caliber bullets.

"People just aren't buying them," Jones said.

Dodson said he has heard some customers at his store cite conspiracy theories — and that true or not, those theories are having a very real effect on supply and demand.

"If someone thinks it's rare, they're going to buy it as soon as they see it," he said.

One political situation that likely won't affect local gun dealers, however, is a new U.S. sanction on Kalashnikov Concern, the Russian maker of the AK-47. The U.S. and E.U. are also considering further sanctions on Russian-made goods in response to the belief that the Russian government was involved in the downing of a civilian airliner in Ukraine, killing hundreds of people.

Most AK-style guns available in Sanford actually are from other countries like Serbia and Romania, but that hasn't stopped possibly mistaken customers from rushing in to get the guns ahead of more sanctions or increased political instability.

"On Saturday, I sold two of them, and both were because of the news from Russia," Whiteside said.

Dodson said he has more AR-style rifles than AKs, and that while he did recently sell an AK-style rifle, it was a special order from an American company. He added that he fully supports punishing Russia with trading bans, and not just because his business wouldn't be affected.

"As far as sanctions and stuff, I'm all for that," Dodson said. "Especially because of that plane getting shot down."