Gun owners, worried about what President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress plan to do with gun laws, are stocking up on ammunition, local gun shop owners say.
“It started with guns, and now it’s ammo,” Frank Spizuoco, owner of Maine Military Supply of Brewer, said recently. “If [a particular ammunition is] here today, it might not be here tomorrow. It’s literally changing daily.”
Around the time Obama was elected in November, Spizuoco noticed a “rush on military rifles,” he said. “Shortly thereafter, it was handguns.”
Now he’s selling out of gun accessories, such as high capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, and even ammunition cans.
The big demand is for 9 mm; 7.62 x 39 mm, which are used in AK-47s, SKSs and hunting rifles; and .223-caliber rifle bullets, which are used in U.S. military rifles such as M-16s, Spizuoco said.
“I’m going out the door at this very moment to Vermont to pick up 96 cases, 96,000 rounds,” he said on Wednesday. The 5½-hour trip to Vermont was to pick up 7.62 x 39 mm and .223-caliber rounds, he said.
“When I pick it up, I’ll give them another order” that will take a couple months to fill, Spizuoco said. He added that popular handgun ammo, including .45-caliber and .380-caliber, also “is in extremely short supply.”
Gun shop owner Ralph McLeod of Holden said he is seeing “hoarding and panic buying,” and described it as a form of paranoia.
“They’re buying all the ammunition that isn’t tied down,” he said.
Around the election, several groups, including the National Rifle Association, advertised that Obama would be the “most anti-gun president in American history,” which spurred gun sales across the nation. Those have leveled off, both McLeod and Spizuoco said, and now gun owners are saving up ammo.
“They’re afraid of future restrictions,” Spizuoco said of his customers. “There are a lot of rumors out there. I don’t know if any are true, but I’m hearing rumors on restricting ammo, that it’s going to be registered. People are stocking up.”
When Obama served as an Illinois senator, he supported “every gun bill” presented to him, McLeod said, and has voiced support for renewing a now-expired federal ban on assault weapons.
While there is talk about plans to put serial numbers on ammo, to track who buys what, and to close a gun show loophole that allows gun sales without a background check, little has been done, William Harwood, a Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence board member, said on Wednesday.
“I wish I could tell you that was in fact what has happened, but in fact we’re hearing just the opposite,” Harwood said. “They have a lot on their plates. Despite [Obama’s] past … gun control is not getting his attention right now.”
Ammo hoarding and panic buying, however, are reasons for concern, he said.
“I can’t imagine anyone who is feeling safer,” Harwood said. “It’s likely to make us less safe and result in more gun violence and suicides.”
There is one new piece of gun control legislation under consideration, and one amendment, according to the Library of Congress’ Web site, both of which are in committee, and neither was put forth by Obama.
McLeod said his Holden gun shop, Buyers Guns, is just a “microcosm” compared to larger ammo suppliers such as Wal-Mart. On Wednesday, Bangor’s Wal-Mart was out of 9 mm bullets and had five boxes of .223-caliber rounds. Dick’s Sporting Goods in Bangor has been out of 9 mm rounds for about four weeks, but the store had eight boxes of .223-caliber, with boxes that ranged from 50 to 200 rounds.
The lack of available ammo also has pushed up prices, McLeod said. For example, cheap, Malaysia-made .223-caliber rounds cost between “$200 to $250 six months ago,” for a box of 1,000 and now cost more than $400, he said.
It’s almost doubled in six months,” McLeod said.
Even empty shells, which have cost 1 cent a shell for years, are now selling for 10 cents for “common brass.”
“That’s outrageous,” the longtime gun shop owner said.
In an attempt to keep up with the demand, Spizuoco also is stocking up, but with ammo requests up nationwide, even he sometimes has to wait. Maine Military Supply just got a 90,000-round shipment in last week that he pre-ordered three months ago, the owner said.
“I used to call around and get quotes” for ammo, but “now there is no inventory so I just ask how much,” Spizuoco said. “I’m buying extremely heavy.”
The Bangor Police Department experienced a shortage of ammo in recent years, but “what I heard was that the war in Iraq made it difficult to find,” Sgt. Paul Edwards said on Wednesday. “That was a rumor I heard.
“We’re stocked fine,” he said, adding police officers typically use .40-caliber handguns.
Competitive shooters are feeling the pinch from the lack of supplies, Lee Ohmart, Pine Tree Rifle and Pistol Association vice president, said on Wednesday.
Some members say “they are having trouble getting a hold of ammunition” and ammunition components, and “that’s a big concern.”
Local competitive shooters, who typically reload their own shells, are not hoarding ammo, but “if any of them do find that they [are] able to get a certain component, they would probably buy in great quantity because they don’t know when” they’ll find more, Ohmart said.
The phenomenon of paranoia around gun control is nothing new and typically happens around presidential elections.
“Every time we get someone elected on the national level, people are concerned that they are going to ban these things,” he said.
One effect of the ammo hoarding and increase in gun and gun accessory sales is that business is up, said Spizuoco, who said he sells a ton of items on the Internet.
“It’s the one business that is thriving” in the bad economy, he said. “We’re up 40 percent and I have three people who all they do is process [Internet orders] all day. We’re having a positive response.”
Customers come in every day looking for 7.62 x 39 mm, .223-caliber and 9 mm bullets, and Spizuoco tells them to “get it while you can because on certain days we don’t have it.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Some people tend to overreact … but hell, it never hurts to have 1,000 rounds kicking around.”