Gun City USA, the largest gun store in Nashville, has sold arms to country music stars Hank Williams Jr., George Jones and their entourages. What it can’t sell them much of right now is ammunition to reload.
“We have very, very little of any caliber,” said Larry Baity, a 74-year-old counter clerk at Gun City who said he has waited on Williams. “We’re virtually out. We’ve got a lot of bare shelves.”
The scene at Gun City is playing out across the U.S. as record gun sales deplete stocks from ammunition makers Alliant Techsystems Inc. and Olin Corp. Demand for firearms is being driven in part by concern that U.S. President Barack Obama may impose new controls, said Matt Rice, a spokesman for Massachusetts-based Smith & Wesson Holding Corp.
“Each administration has their own policies,” Rice said. “It definitely made people a little apprehensive, and that led to increased gun sales.” Smith & Wesson makes the .357 Magnum, the .38 Special and Walther PPK handguns.
Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks for firearm sales jumped 27 percent to 3.82 million in the first quarter this year, following a 14 percent jump to a record 12.7 million for all 2008. October through November 2008 saw the largest number of quarterly background checks since they were launched in 1998 as part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act passed earlier, the data show.
“There’s a concern, rightfully or wrong, that the right to bear arms might be restricted so people are stocking up,” said Howard Rubel, a New York-based analyst with Jefferies & Co. “How long that’s going to play out is hard to call.”
During the 2008 campaign, Obama’s Web site said he would “protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport and use guns.”
The White House Web site section on Obama’s agenda says he and Vice President Joseph Biden both “support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.” Asked yesterday whether Obama still supports such a ban or how actively he plans to push for it, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “I think that there are other priorities that the president has.”
The National Rifle Association also is hearing reports of “widespread ammunition shortages” tied to increased gun demand and has no industrywide data to quantify the shortfall, said Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the firearms-rights group. Ted Novin, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said domestic production of ammunition is about 8 billion to 10 billion rounds per year, including all calibers used for hunting, sporting, law enforcement and the military.
Running around the clock
Efforts to meet the surge in consumer demand for ammunition are also being stifled by the need to support production for U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems, the military’s largest supplier of cartridges for M-16 rifles, has quadrupled production under its Army contract in the past nine years to more than 1.4 billion rounds.
Demand for ammunition products “is at an all-time high” said Bryce Hallowell, a spokesman for Alliant Techsystems, who declined to provide details before financial results are released May 7. The company is projected to report earnings per share rose 14 percent to $2.09 for the three months ended March 31.
Olin’s Winchester Ammunition unit has seen demand for its products “increase significantly since last fall,” the company said in a statement. To meet demand, “operations are running 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” it said. Valerie Peters, a spokeswoman for Winchester, declined to elaborate.
At Cabela’s Inc., the Nebraska-based retailer of hunting and outdoor gear with 29 stores nationwide, “ammunition supplies have been tighter,” said John Castillo, a spokesman. “While we are able to carry every caliber, we may not have as many boxes as we’ve normally had.”
Some gun owners have been wary of Obama since he said during the primary campaign in April 2008 that when people in small towns in Pennsylvania “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion.” Republican rival John McCain criticized the remarks during the general election campaign.
Concerns about new gun controls rose after Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, said Feb. 25 the administration would like to “reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons” under President Bill Clinton, which expired in 2004 during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Hank Williams Jr., 59, who made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry at 11, said he took exception to the “bitter” remark and responded by recording an advertisement for McCain. Kirt Webster, a spokesman for Williams, said the singer wasn’t available to comment for this story.
Williams, who lists “fishing, hunting, gun collecting” as hobbies on his Web site, posted a separate video on YouTube in October in which he called the shotguns owned by his father and grandfather “sacred things.”
“When Barack Obama said folks like you and me were bitter, and clinging to guns and religion, I knew he just doesn’t understand small-town America,” Williams said in the spot for McCain. “We love our God, and we love our guns.”