Ammunition stores reload as shortage eases in U.S.

City sports stores are refilling shelves

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On Wednesday, a shelf at the back of the Gander Mountain store in Moon displayed an abundant supply of ammunition for handguns and rifles. That was a big change from several months ago, when a nationwide ammunition shortage left the shelf barren.

"There probably wouldn't be a whole lot for you to buy" back then, said Tom Ferry, the store's hunting manager.

Pittsburgh's sporting goods stores are recovering from an ammunition shortage that forced them to ration some bullets in the past year. Most types of ammunition are readily available now, employees said, although some, such as .22 long rifle bullets, remain scarce.

"It's loosened up a little bit," said Keith Savage of Braverman Arms in Wilkinsburg. "There are still some types of common ammunition we can't get."

Less common ammunition, such as that for .32 Colts, is still hard to come by, Mr. Savage said. But the big gap in local stores' shelves is for .22 long rifle ammunition, a relatively cheap type.

Despite its full shelf, Gander Mountain is limiting customers to about 1,000, .22 bullets in one purchase. On Wednesday afternoon, the nearby Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods had signs up informing customers that they could just buy three boxes of the ammunition per day. At Island Firearms in Neville Township, owner Wayne Lykens limited each customer to one box of .22s, because he had just seven left.

The popularity of .22 long rifle ammunition could be a result of its low price; it usually costs about 6 to 20 cents per round, depending on the quantity purchased.

As the price of ammunition rose steeply in recent years, some customers sought cheaper options.

Prices peaked last fall, when the shortage was severe, Mr. Savage said. Since then, the price of a box of 9 mm ammunition, for instance, dropped gone from about $70 to $18.

The rise in demand for guns and ammunition dates back about a decade, said Mike Bazinet, director of public affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Some Americans decided to become gun owners after the 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller affirmed the right to keep guns in the home, he said.

Also, shooting has become more popular as a hobby, with retailers reporting that 25 percent of their customers buying guns are first-time owners.

"Ranges have become more friendly. They're becoming more of a destination," Mr. Bazinet said. "People go to ranges and share their experiences with friends on social media."

Moreover, ammunition hoarding is a major reason for shortages, Mr. Bazinet said. Some gun owners are worried that President Barack Obama wants to limit second amendment rights, so they've stocked up on guns and ammunition. Recent mass shootings, such as the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have created fear among some gun owners of new state or federal legislation that may restrict gun ownership.

In response to last fall's shortage, ammunition manufacturers have increased production, Mr. Bazinet said. Still, they're having trouble keeping the market satisfied.

"It's a slow process, and it varies from region to region," Mr. Bazinet said. "Supply and demand are coming back into balance, slowly."

Thomas Cook, assistant chief at the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire, said that storing ammunition in one's home creates a fire hazard, but not a severe one. A fire can ignite a bullet that's kept in storage, but there won't be much force behind it because there's no gun barrel to concentrate the energy.

"It's really not any more hazardous than the other chemicals stored in the home," Mr. Cook said.

Richard Webner: or 412-263-4903.

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