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Ammo, cheaper guns hard to come by as unrest fuels sales

By Fran Gonzalez | Oct 14, 2020
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez A selection of rifles at Maine Outdoor Sportsman in Northport Oct. 9 with ammunition boxes below. Gun dealers say ammunition started to be hard to get in April and May of this year.

Ammunition and less expensive guns have quietly been hot commodities since early spring, and with gun owners stocking up on arms as if they were prized packages of toilet paper, the end is nowhere in sight.

Carl Kosmo, owner of Maine Outdoor Sportsman in Northport, said there is an overall scarcity of ammunition, and it is part of a national problem.

"It is a manufacturing issue and a retail demand issue," Kosmo said.

There shortage of ammunition right now has been caused by a wave of new people buying firearms. Kosmo said his store has had a hard time keeping up with demand, and because many types of ammunition are manufactured overseas, he has a backlog of orders.

An Oct. 5 Newsweek article reported that FBI background checks for purchasing firearms have increased 72% from last year, and increases in ammunition purchases have soared 139% during the first half of 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.

Recent estimates from the National Shooting Sports Foundation show nearly 5 million new gun owners this year have joined the ranks of the 100 million-plus gun owners already in the U.S. The data also shows that 40% of all firearms sales are to first-time buyers.

Kosmo’s daughter Michelle Kosmo, manager at Maine Outdoor Sportsman, said she started seeing shortages in April and May. Shipments to the store that would usually take two weeks are now taking months. People have resorted to reloading their own ammunition, she said, but even the raw materials have become scarce.

Michelle has been checking with the store's distributors regularly to see what they have to offer, saying sometimes “you might get lucky.” A clipboard with customers' needs that she keeps contains three pages of listings.

While the store has plenty of rifles and higher-end pieces, used guns and associated ammunition are “very hard to keep in stock,” she said.

Daniel Parsons, owner of Parsons Small Engines and Gun Shop in Unity, said he cannot get certain less expensive handguns because they are in such high demand. Guns in the $400 to $500 range, “I just can’t get,” he said. The scarcity of guns and ammunition he blames on the coronavirus.

Parsons warned, “If you got ammo, don’t shoot it. Just make sure you have at least two rounds when going hunting.”

To make matters worse, he said, Remington Arms Co., one of the top domestic gun manufacturers, filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year and its products have been in lockup.

According to a July report from National Public Radio, despite the recent run on guns, the 204-year-old gun maker Remington has filed for bankruptcy twice since 2018. In a 2019 Supreme Court ruling, families of victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were allowed to move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit against Remington as the manufacturer and marketer of the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, used in the 2012 massacre.

Donnie Heald, a Lincolnville gunsmith who owns Four Aces Arms, agrees there is a shortage of ammunition driven by sales of firearms across the country.

While Heald's business deals with repairing firearms, he said among other gun shops he knows of in the area, only a handful are receiving ammunition supplies regularly and those shops are rationing what they have to make sure they have something to sell.

He credits the unrest around the country, the riots, and the amount of coverage the turmoil has received on the news and in social media with impelling people to arm themselves. “You can’t deny it,” he said. “People are making choices accordingly.”

There are a lot of new people buying firearms and related products and the market does not have a way to absorb the excess demand, creating a shortage, he said.

Normally, Michelle Kosmo said, the gun room cases are stocked with firearms, but this year, “it’s slim pickings. It’s going to be a challenge come deer season.”

A few years ago, she remembered, a similar situation took a year or so to get back to normal. "This will take a long time to bounce back."

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