A surge in new gun purchases has triggered a shortage of ammunition, raising concern among local police departments.
Several Washington, D.C.-area police departments said they have noticed a dwindling supply of bullets being sold by manufacturers and distributers, which could eventually create problems for agencies which buy ammunition for officer training and certification.
The ammunition shortage also creates hurdles and headaches for private gun shops and owners, some of whom report skyrocketing prices.
“I talk to police departments everywhere — from federal, state and local departments — daily. They are struggling to find ammunition to even qualify the officers,” said Curt Sebastian, co-owner of SSG Tactical gun shop in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
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Sebastian said the shortage has quadrupled the price of some ammunition and drained his supply of others.
“There will come a point, if things keep going the way they're going, when I don't have enough inventory to be open six days a week,” he said.
Sebastian said a box of ammo that traditionally sells for $9 to $14 now costs about $50.
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FBI records reviewed by the News4 I-Team show a spike in new gun purchase background checks. The number of people applying for a firearms background check jumped by almost 1 million each month since the beginning of the pandemic. The wave of new buyers has drained the ammunition supply, Sebastian said. He said 85% of his customers have been first-time gun owners. Add those new gun owners to people who also stocked up in the past year due to the civil unrest, the election and the transition of power in DC and you have the perfect storm for a shortage, according to Sebastian.
To prevent a shortage of ammunition, several local police departments said they purchase bullets months in advance, in large orders, to avoid running low.
“We don't try to wait until we're out or low,” said acting Arlington Police Chief Andy Penn. “We stay proactive in order so that we don't run out. We always have a supply.”
He said right now his department has a large amount of ammunition that’s been on backorder for months.
Hagerstown Police Chief Paul Kifer said his department switched from 40-caliber firearms to 9mm firearms in recent years, in part because 9mm ammunition was easier to procure. Kifer said his department also started ordering two years’ worth of ammo in the past. And he continued, if prices continue to go up, budgets might have to be adjusted.
“If we have to, we have to pull something from another part of our budget to make up the difference for the ammo costs,’ Kifer said. “That's what we've got to do.”
“Our firearms instructors have closely monitored our ammunition supply, have kept in contact with our ammunition vendors and have made revisions to our in-person training, all while continuing to ensure that each of our officers meets state mandated training requirements,” a Leesburg Police Department spokesman said.
Maryland, Virginia and federal regulations require police officers complete firearms training before they are licensed or permitted to carry guns as law enforcement officers. Multiple law enforcement officials told the I-Team a new officer needs almost 1,000 bullets for first-year training and certification. They said returning officers require almost 100 each for annual training, which includes both daylight and low-light training regimens.
Gun owners said they also need bullets for training and are concerned about the shrinking supply of bullets.
“If you don't train, when it comes down to it, in any stressful situation you lose your fine motor skills,” Greg Newman of Spotsylvania County said.
Newman said prospective ammunition buyers are experiencing a shortage similar to the panic runs made on toilet paper and sanitary wipes in March 2020.
“What's happening with a lot of higher volume shooters, they're hanging on to what they've got,” Newman said.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot and edited by Steve Jones.