Selling bullets may be the most secure job in Florida as long as supplies last.
After months of heavy buying, gun dealers across the state are experiencing shortages.
Some say it began with the election of President Barack Obama. Others say it’s about the economic downturn or fear of crime. Whatever the reasons, ammunition has been selling like plywood and bottled water in the days before a hurricane.
“The survivalist in all of us comes out,” said John Ritz, manager of East Orange Shooting Sports in Winter Park. “It’s more about protecting what you have.”
Demand for bullets is so strong that suppliers are restricting deliveries.
“Where we used to get 20 to 30 cases [in a shipment], we may get two to three cases now,” said Vic Grechniw of Florida Ammo Traders in Tampa. “The supply just isn’t there. . . . Everybody is pretty much rushing out to get their hands on whatever they can.”
Most in demand is handgun ammunition, including 9 mm and .45-caliber for semiautomatic pistols and .38-caliber for revolvers. Clerks at local Walmart stores, including Apopka and Kissimmee, say those sizes, along with .22-caliber, are on back order at the chain’s warehouses.
American gun owners buy about 7 billion rounds of ammunition yearly, according to the National Rifle Association. It has been warning its several million members that Obama favors raising taxes on bullets to make them prohibitively expensive.
“Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that the demand for ammunition is continuing to increase, and that is certainly attributable to gun owners’ concerns with the current administration,” said Ted Novin, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association representing 4,700 members.
The scarcity of bullets piggybacked on more widely publicized sales of assault rifles.
“Everybody kind of got caught with their pants down,” Larry Anderson, manager of Shoot Straight in Apopka, said about the demand for bullets, which surprised even longtime gun dealers.
Each day he spends one to two hours on the phone talking to suppliers to buy ammunition for Shoot Straight’s store and shooting ranges in Apopka, Casselberry and Tampa.
“We’re fortunate with the buying power we’ve got and the connections we’ve got,” Anderson said.
Despite being able to buy 100,000 rounds at a time, Shoot Straight can’t find any copper-jacketed bullets for .380-caliber pistols, popular as concealed weapons. The shops have adequate supplies of other calibers.
“You’ve got to beat the bushes and take deals,” Anderson said. “Now I take whatever I can get instead of being finicky.”
National chains are seeing the same increased levels of customers buying guns and ammunition in recent months, said Larry L. Whiteley, a spokesman for Bass Pro Shops.
“Why, we don’t know,” he said.
One major regional manufacturer, Georgia Arms, has seen bullet sales jump 100 percent since the November election.
“People are just stockpiling,” said company spokeswoman Judy Shipley. “A gun is just like a car. If you can’t get gas, you can’t use it.”
Georgia Arms sells more than 100 types of ammunition for handguns, shotguns and rifles at gun shows from South Florida as far north as Virginia. It now cautions online buyers, “Attention: Due to a huge increase in demand, our shipping times have been delayed 5-7 weeks on most orders. Please be patient with us and know we will fill your orders ASAP.”
Demand has been so strong for all things gun that the Oak Ridge Gun Range south of Orlando is moving to a new, larger range in three weeks.
“It used to be you’d order bullets and get them in the next day. Now it can take a couple of months,” said owner John Harvey, who has seen demand for state concealed-weapons classes increase 300 percent since the election.
“I haven’t been able to get any smaller concealed guns that I’d recommend come in in two months,” Harvey said. “Basically, Smith & Wesson is out of Smith & Wesson.”
The latest surge is pushing already high costs still higher.
“It was going up long before the political thing got started,” Drew Huy, owner since 1981 of Ammo Attic in Melbourne, said of prices that have increased as much as 40 percent in recent years.
He and other dealers, including Ritz, attributed rising costs to shortages of brass, copper and lead brought on by the industrial consumption in India and China. In addition, rising fuel prices dramatically increased shipping costs for ammunition, heavy by nature.
“I’m spending a lot more on it now [to buy it] than I was selling it for two years ago,” Ritz said. At his shop in Winter Park he has seen the cost of bullets rise as much as 10 percent every three months for the past two years.
Suppliers to law-enforcement agencies are doing better than retail shops.
“We’re in good shape,” said Tom Falone of Florida Bullet in Clearwater, who sells Federal and Spear brand ammunition to police departments and sheriff’s offices. The only slight problem has been obtaining .40-caliber bullets, and those are delivered within 30 days.
“I called about .22 [bullets] the other day, and they had 12 million rounds in the warehouse.”