Updated: February 22, 2013 at 12:00 am
Nick McLatchie spent more than a month looking for ammunition so he could head to the range and shoot.
On Friday afternoon, he and Margaret Swafford finally made it to the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex with .45-caliber and .380 handguns and a 7 mm rifle.
“We’ve been all over the city,” said the construction worker, standing in the cold outside the firing line, the .45 on his hip as the sun glanced off crusted snow drifts. “Nobody has ammo.”
Rationing and shortages are the new normal when it comes to buying ammunition at Colorado Springs gun shops.
At some stores, lines have formed as bullet buyers queue up for the latest shipments of 9 mm and .22-caliber long rifle ammo.
As quickly as that ammunition comes in, it fires right back out, said John Koller, manager of the Big R store in Widefield.
“It’s just on certain ammo,” he said. “But we’re out. Every time we get anything, it goes out the door in 10 to 15 minutes.”
Koller said he gets calls daily about his supply of 9 mm and .22 long rifle. His last shipment of that ammunition was Tuesday “and they were gone in 15 minutes,” he said.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said it’s easier to list what is readily available than it is to list what ammunition is in short supply.
Big bore ammunition, the kind used on safaris, is available. So is shotgun ammo, mostly bird shot, he said.
“Other than that, you almost can’t get it,” Maketa said.
Even Walmart, the nation’s largest gun seller, is feeling the pinch.
“To take care of as many customers as possible, starting Jan. 24 all ammunition sales were limited to three boxes per day,” said Ashley Hardie, Walmart spokeswoman. “We’re monitoring supply issues daily and working closely with suppliers to ship ammunition to our stores.”
The shortage has some law enforcement folks concerned.
In a written statement, Colorado Springs Lt. Hugh “Mike” Velasquez, the department’s Training Academy director, said Friday the agency is “concerned about the availability of ammunition due to the recent shootings and pending legislation.”
“We are not at a point where we are restricting training ammunition due to the supply concerns,” he said. “When and if that changes will largely depend on the market. We are working to ensure we have a buffer of ammunition so we do not end up in an ammunition crisis.”
The sheriff’s department doesn’t share that worry.
Maketa said ammunition is sold first to the military and law enforcement, and then to the public.
“We will get ours,” he said. “We will pay a little more for it because of supply and demand.”
Behind the shortage, experts, retailers and customers say, are the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and looming national and state legislation on gun control.
The National Sports Shooting Foundation, the trade association for firearms and ammunition, pegs some of the shortage on increased interest in shooting sports.
Ammunition makers pump out about 8 billion rounds a year, but the association expects that number to increase when reports come out in May.
“In general, there’s been an increase in firearms ownership,” said Mike Bazinet, the association’s spokesman. “There are more women interested and a younger demographic entering shooting sports.”
The association, he said, “will not speculate” on the impact of gun control legislation and recent incidents.
Jeff Lepp, owner of Specialty Sports and Supply in Colorado Springs, pins the cause of the shortage on “all the issues about banning guns.”
“People are concerned because of that and talks in Colorado about limiting ammunition,” he said. “People think there’s an endless supply of ammunition out there, but there’s not.”
It’s not going to get any better.
Manufacturers are working seven days a week to meet demand and posting on their websites about the shortages.
“Winchester Ammunition, like other ammunition manufacturers, has seen the demand for our products increase significantly since last fall. To meet that increased demand, our operations are running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Winchester said in a Feb. 20 post.
“Ammunition supply,” said Lepp, “is not going to get better in one month, or two months or six months. Ammunition supply is going to become progressively worse.”
At Paradise Sales Firearms, the shortage is mostly in 9 mm, .22 long rifle and 5.56 mm, a spokesman said. The .22 long rifle is popular because of its versatility, he said. It can be used in handguns and rifles.
It’s also cheap. A 50-round box can cost as little as $3.50.
Paradise hasn’t seen 9 mm ammunition in two months and its supply of .22 long rifle ran out a month ago.
Sportsman’s Warehouse, which has a store in Colorado Springs, referred calls to its corporate office, which declined comment.
“It’s hoarding, that’s what it probably is,” said Delbert Richardson, general manager at Pikes Peak Gun Club Izaak Walton League Chapter 34, a gun range east of Colorado Springs with about 1,400 members.
At a manufacturer’s show, Richardson said he heard it will take 14 months to bring the .22 long rifle supply back to normal.
On the other hand, last week he got 10,000 rounds of .223 caliber, a round used in the AR-15.
“I don’t really understand the .22,” he said. “I’ve been scavenging some up from friends and from stuff I have in storage and we’ve been selling it for $5 for a 50-round box just to keep selling it.”