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Ammunition Shortage Squeezes Police
The Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Mo., directly supplies the military with more than 80 percent of its small-arms ammunition. Production at the factory has more than tripled since 2002, rising from roughly 425 million rounds that year to 1.4 billion rounds in 2006, according to the Joint Munitions Command at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois.
Most of the rest of the military's small-arms ammunition comes from Falls Church, Va.-based General Dynamics Corp., which relies partly on subcontractors _ some of whom also supply police departments. Right now, their priority is filling the military's orders, said Darren Newsom, general manager of The Hunting Shack in Stevensville, Mont., which ships 250,000 rounds a day as it supplies ammunition to 3,000 police departments nationwide.
"There's just a major shortage on ammo in the U.S. right now," he said, pointing to his current backorder for 2.5 million rounds of .223-caliber ammunition. "It's just terrible."
Police say the .223-caliber rifle round is generally the hardest to find. Even though rounds used by the military are not exactly the same as those sold to police, they are made from the same metals and often using the same equipment.
Alliant Techsystems Inc., which runs the Lake City plant for the Army, also produced more than 5 billion rounds for hunting and police use last year, making the Edina, Minn.-based company the country's largest ammunition manufacturer. Spokesman Bryce Hallowell questioned whether the Iraq war had a direct effect on the ammunition available to police, but said there was no doubt that surging demand was affecting supply.
"We had looked at this and didn't know if it was an anomaly or a long-term trend," Hallowell said. "We started running plants 24/7. Now we think it is long-term, so we're going to build more production capability."
That unrelenting demand for ammunition will continue to put a premium on planning ahead, said Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who so far has kept his department from experiencing any shortage-related problems.
"If we have a problem, I'll go make an issue of it _ if I have to go to Washington or the military," Arpaio said. "That is a serious thing ... if you don't have the firepower to protect the public and yourself."
Estes Thompson reported from Raleigh, N.C. Associated Press writers Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Robert Imrie in Wausau, Wis.; Joe Kafka in Pierre, S.D.; Rebecca Santana in Trenton, N.J.; Matt Gouras in Helena, Mont.; Robert Moen in Cheyenne, Wyo.; Jonathan Gambrell in Little Rock, Ark., Ryan Lenz in Evansville, Ind.; and Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.