published Friday, February 8th, 2013

Gun-control fears have guns, bullets flying off shelves in Chattanooga area

John Martin, owner of Shooter's Depot on Shallowford Road, says demand has been so high for ammunition that he had to limit his stock of ammo to range members only. No retail sales.
John Martin, owner of Shooter's Depot on Shallowford Road, says demand has been so high for ammunition that he had to limit his stock of ammo to range members only. No retail sales.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Roughly 60 new rifles and shotguns hang on display at GT Distributors, a Rossville store that caters to law enforcement personnel.

But they're for display only.

On Thursday, the gun store was sold out of new rifles and shotguns.

"We do have some handgun models left in stock, but the most popular models we're out of," General Manager Bruce Robins said.

Demand for guns and ammunition has surged as gun owners anticipate gun control measures from President Barack Obama in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Some police agencies report months-long delays in getting supplies of ammunition for their officers and for training and certification needs.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol has been waiting since August to receive its yearly order of ammunition, but spokeswoman Dalya J. Qualls said the delay has not affected their personnel, The Associated Press reported.

GT Distributors has ammunition in stock. But a sign on the Rossville store's ammunition shelves advises police departments there may not be enough ammo on hand to fill large orders. Requests should be made six to nine months in advance, the sign states.

The Shelbyville, Tenn., Police Department recently placed an order for ammunition that typically takes about a month to arrive from the supplier. But training officer Lt. Trey Clanton told the Shelbyville Times-Gazette that they expect the order to take three months to arrive.

Law enforcement officials in Chattanooga, East Ridge, Red Bank and Cleveland, Tenn., said they aren't running low on ammunition.

"We haven't experienced anything, since we order our ammo a year in advance," Cleveland Police Department spokeswoman Evie West said.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said, "We saw the potential delays early on and have ordered plenty to train and qualify for the entire department's in-service, as well as complete our current academy."

Rationing ammo

As demand for ammunition has increased, so have prices.

Fort Oglethorpe police Lt. Steve Blevins said that to save money at target practice, he bought a handgun chambered for .22-caliber long rifle cartridges.

"My personal gun I use to train with is the .22 long rifle, so I can afford the ammunition," Blevins said.

But demand may trump Blevins' cost-saving strategy.

"The hardest ammo to find right now is .22, believe it or not," GT Distributors' sales clerk Derrick Atwell said. "Everybody and their brother has a .22."

Five hundred rounds of .22-caliber ammunition used to cost only about $20, Atwell said. That's soared to $100 to $150 -- if you can find it.

GT Distributors has a "no-gouging" policy, so its ammunition prices haven't gone up, Atwell said, except to pass along cost increases from suppliers.

The Rossville store now has monthly limits on the amount of ammunition that individual customers can buy: 300 handgun rounds, 75 shotgun shells and 320 rifle rounds.

Shooter's Depot at 5958 Shallowford Road in Chattanooga recently took boxes of its most popular ammunition off the sales floor.

"We've stored them in the back," co-owner John Martin said.

That's because demand is outstripping supply.

"For every three boxes that goes out, one comes in," Martin said.

Now, the most popular ammunition is available only to the 1,100 members who've paid a $250 annual fee to the Shooter's Depot shooting range. And they are limited to one 50-round box per visit.

Martin said demand was increasing before Sandy Hook, because of factors including more female and young shooters and what he said was an increase in Chattanooga's crime rate.

National media reported this week that Walmart was limiting customers to three boxes of ammunition per day so the world's largest gun seller does not run out of bullets.

Reloaders hurting

Even those who make their own ammunition are having trouble finding raw materials.

North Georgia Reloading and Accessories in Fort Oglethorpe sells ammunition that it makes at a facility in Flintstone, Ga.

One product line uses empty brass shells that shooters bring in from the firing range. Employees clean the brass and add new primer, powder and bullets to make cartridges.

"What we're running out of right now is bullets," co-owner Larry Chapman said.

"We've got tons of brass," he said. "We've got brass [cartridges] running out of our ears. But nothing to put in them."

Because of cost increases, North Georgia Reloading had to raise the price of the 9 mm target ammunition it makes to $149 per 500 rounds.

"Two months ago, it was $99," Chapman said. "But the price of everything's up."

He said the business could be growing -- if it had more raw material to work with. Instead, Chapman said, they've had to cut back.

"We've already laid seven people off," Chapman said. "There's tremendous demand. We could be millionaires -- if we could get the supply."

Staff writer Beth Burger and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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