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Dick Harmon: Dick Harmon: Unprecedented demand has made it hard to buy .22 bullets, other ammunition

Published: Friday, June 14 2013 4:12 p.m. MDT

Glen Parshall holds a WWII Thompson submachine gun.

Dick Harmon

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OREM — Where have all the .22 bullets gone?

They’re among the cheapest, most popular and readily available boxes of sporting ammo around, right?

Not anymore.

Like shortages of 9-millimeter, .45 and .223, the .22-caliber long rifle shell has gone the way of the times. This is a time when gun owners and shooting enthusiasts have grown wary, protective and political. People are panicking. Some are hoarding.

"Since the school shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, America has gone on an unprecedented gun-buying binge," reported The Atlantic Wire this past March.

“We’ve got .22 shells on backorder. We can’t keep them in,” said Glen Parshall, manager of Minuteman Pawn, a gun specialty shop in Orem. Parshall, once featured on the History Channel’s "Real Deal," has also worked in Las Vegas handling guns for the History Channel's “Pawn Stars” after working in the aerospace industry on the MX missile and space shuttle.

What Parshall describes is the norm. From Wal-Mart to Cabela's, from Dick’s Sporting Goods to other major retailers, supplies come in, people who know the delivery times line up, and .22 shells are gobbled up like Inca gold.

Gunnies, a popular gun store in Orem, used to order two or three pallets of ammo, including .22 shells, and in a few months, they’d be delivered. “Now that isn’t happening. It just doesn’t come through,” said manager Wyatt Harrison. “When we get some, they go fast.”

Harrison says he isn’t receiving but “a drop in the bucket” of what he had been getting. “We’re getting small trickles of it instead of large clumps of it. But we are getting it.”

Stores are placing limits on purchases so they can serve more customers. “Remington and other manufacturers have told us they have price increases coming. They’ve had to ramp up production and increase staff and equipment and hike it 10 percent,” said Harrison.

“I’ve been in the gun business since 1982 and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Parshall. “Every four years or so we have something that brings up interest, but the past six to eight months is 20 times more than it was four years ago.”

Since February 2009, CNSNews estimates there are 32 background checks for gun ownership every minute in this country.

Of course, there are politics involved. People are scared and upset. And they're reacting. But I’m not getting into that aspect of the phenomenon, just the bare facts of how hard it is to get bullets for target practice or a little plunking or hunting.

Times have changed. And we may never see prices or availability return to the salad days, when 500 bricks of .22 shells were aplenty and cost around $20.

Since the November election, lines have formed at gun shops and shows. Folks are stockpiling ammo, buying up rifles, shotguns, handguns and ammunition magazines.

“It’s getting crazier and crazier,” said Parshall. “It’s not the same as it was two months ago. Gun sales have gone down a little, but not ammo. The availability has not changed. I can’t just get on the computer and order bullets like I did a year ago. There was a time I could get anything I needed. Now, the only way I can get some kinds of ammo is through some contacts I’ve had over the years.”

Parshall says there are millions of rounds of .22 ammo manufactured in the U.S. every day and those folks are “running full bore” and cannot keep up with the demand.

“Instead of coming in and buying a couple of boxes to go shoot in an afternoon, people are coming in and buying four to six bricks of .22 shells.”

Parshall had a competitor in the business tell him of a woman in her 80s who comes in once a month when she gets her Social Security check and buys a couple of boxes of .22 shells. He asked if she shot often. “Oh, no. I just remember my dad in the years of the Depression buying bullets because he traded them for milk and eggs just like money. I buy them and put them on my food storage shelf just in case.”

Parshall says the old $15 price for a brick is now $25 to $30 — if you can get it — but he’s seen it go for $90 to $200. He says prices will come down, but like gasoline prices, once they’ve gone up, they never will come all the way back down.

How nuts is it?

Parshall cites popular gun manufacturer Ruger, which sold a half-million guns last year but shipped a half-million guns by March of this year and had orders for two million more, including Parshall's order of a couple of thousand that got canceled. Ruger couldn’t keep up with the demand.

“We saw a tidal wave of customers,” said Harrison. “Our business, up until March, had been beyond what we’ve ever had during a stretch that began last November.” Gunnies sold a myriad firearms, from concealed carry guns, tactical weapons, self-protection shotguns and high-capacity weapons to .22s. “We had days we’d come to work and the line would be out the door and into the parking lot. And that line would be solid for two or three hours.”

Parshall said if he’d sold two to three AR-15s in a week, that was a normal expectation a year ago. But one day in November 2012 he sold 20 and would have sold more if he had them.

Harrison says shoppers can get ammo if they're patient. Big retailers seem to have more success obtaining a regular flow of .22 shells.

“Other calibers are coming back and you can find the .22 shells in a few visits. It just might not be there when you want it,” said Harrison.

So, you want to plink a few cans, or sight in with targets at the range?

Good luck. The .22 shell used to be a simple thing to find.

That was yesteryear.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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