Clovis News

Regulation fears leave Valley low on ammo

Ammunition is in short supply at area gun stores, and even some law enforcement agencies are having a hard time getting what they need for training.

And the biggest reason, some local gun dealers say, is fear.

They attribute the shortage to panic buying because of legislation being considered in Sacramento and Washington that would affect ammunition sales and manufacturing. They also point to the demand for bullets by U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Longtime Fresno gun dealer Bill Mayfield said he has trouble finding the most popular handgun calibers, such as 9 mm, .40 caliber, .45 caliber and .38 caliber. In fact, his supply of .380-caliber handgun ammunition was so low that Mayfield recently bought three boxes from a customer who said he didn't need them.

The demand, Mayfield said, has caused manufacturers to start rationing ammunition to retailers. And gun enthusiasts who assemble -- or reload -- their own ammunition are having difficulty, too. Primers, a key reloading component, are hard to find in gun stores and on the Internet.

Mayfield said concerns about legislation are driving the shortage.

"We're talking about an anti-gun president, vice president, House and Senate," he said.

While President Barack Obama has not directly discussed gun control since his election, as a senator he regularly supported gun-control measures, including a ban on semiautomatic "assault weapons" and a limit on handgun purchases to one a month, according to news reports.

He also opposed allowing the self-defense argument for people charged with violating local handgun bans by using weapons in their homes. That issue came up after a Chicago-area man shot an intruder and was then charged with a handgun violation. In addition, statements by Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, that favor gun control are widely cited on pro-gun Web sites.

The proposed laws that worry Mayfield include a measure introduced in more than a dozen states that would require laser etching on every bullet and shell casing so that the ammunition could be traced back to the purchaser.

Proponents say bullet tracing would be a valuable crime-fighting tool, but opponents say it would be a backdoor ban on ammunition sales. The National Shooting Sports Foundation argues that numbering each round would force a dramatic slowdown in the production process, forcing manufacturers to abandon the market.

Clovis resident Vince Compolongo, a seller of old Winchester rifles, said he was at a Reno gun show last week as hundreds lined up waiting for the doors to open. When they did, there was a scramble to get to the ammunition vendors.

"It was full-fledged panic," he said. "I never saw anything like it."

Compolongo said everyone he talked to said they were buying ammunition. Most cited the Obama administration as the reason.

Barry Bauer, of Herb Bauer's Sporting Goods, said he is concerned about California Assembly Bill 962, which would tighten restrictions on ammunition sales. He said the restrictions, which would shut down Internet sales, might be good for his business, but he is opposed to them. The Appropriations Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday.

"We have a right to have guns and to have ammunition," he said.

Bauer added that the shortage is partly due to a spike he has seen since November in firearms purchases. Bauer and other local gun dealers had trouble keeping shelves stocked with guns after last fall's national election prompted a similar reaction from gun buyers. Now, everyone who buys a new gun also is buying ammunition.

The demand for ammunition makes manufacturers one of the few industries thriving in the current recession. Winchester, one of the biggest cartridge makers, recently reported an increase in sales of about 17% this year, according to the St. Louis Business Journal.

Much of the ammunition manufactured in the United States goes to the military, which consumes about 1 billion rounds a year on training and operations, according to an Associated Press report. The military uses the .223-caliber round, which also is widely used in police rifles.

That has hurt training for some law enforcement agencies. Fresno County sheriff's Lt. Louis Hernandez said there have been problems getting enough ammunition for training.

Sheriff's deputies are required to requalify with their firearms quarterly, and Hernandez said they are encouraged to practice often. The department recently ordered 200,000 rounds of .45-caliber ammunition -- about a six-month supply -- for about $41,000. And because law enforcement often buys from the same suppliers that sell to the civilian market, they can be hit by the same scarcity felt by area gun stores.

"If we get a deal, we're going to jump on it," Hernandez said.

Coalinga Police Chief Cal Minor said his department also is having difficulty.

"We had to search high and low to find some," he said, adding that his normal supplier was back-ordered six months.

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said the cost of ammunition to his department has doubled in the past several years. Madera deputies carry .40-caliber ammunition for their handguns and fire .223-caliber rounds in the carbines they carry in their vehicles. In 2006, the department paid 12 cents per round for the .40-caliber ammunition, but it's costing 22 cents now, he said. In the same period, the cost of the .223-caliber went from 21 cents to 50 cents, he said.

Not all law enforcement agencies are feeling the squeeze. Fresno police and sheriff's departments in Kings and Tulare counties report adequate supplies. And Mayfield said he believes the shortage for civilians will likely end, too.

"The system got bought dry," he said. "It's a question of how long it will take to catch up."