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U.S. sees shortage of ammunition

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By David A. Fahrenthold and Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In a year of job losses, foreclosures and bag lunches, Americans have spent record-breaking amounts of money on guns and ammunition. The most obvious sign of their demand: empty ammunition shelves.

At points during the past year, bullets have been selling faster than factories could make them.

Gun owners have bought about 12 billion rounds of ammunition in the past year, industry officials estimate. That's up from 7 billion to 10 billion in a normal year.

It has happened, oddly, at a time when the two concerns that usually make people buy guns and bullets -- crime and increased gun control -- seem less threatening than usual.

The explanation for the run on bullets lies partly in economics: Once rounds were scarce, people hoarded them, which made them scarcer.

But the rush for bullets, like this year's increase in gun sales, also says something about how suspicious the two sides in the gun-control debate are of each other, even at a time when the issue is on Washington's back burner.

The run started, observers say, as people heeded warnings from the gun-rights lobby that a

new Democratic administration would make bullets more expensive or harder to get. Now that the shortage is starting to ease, gun-control groups are voicing their own dark worries about stockpiled ammunition.

In between, in the 12 months since last October, gun shops sold enough bullets to give every American 38 of them.

"We've had people buy ammunition for calibers they don't even have the gun for: 'Oh, I want to get this gun eventually. And when I get it, ammunition may be hard to get,' " said Michael Tenny, who runs a Fort Worth-based Internet sporting goods store called Cheaper Than Dirt.

Tenny said some of his ammunition tripled in price, but he still sold it: "It's just like playoff tickets."

The Obama factor

It was already a political truism that Democrats prompt sales of both guns and ammo. The U.S. government taxes both to support wildlife conservation, and those receipts jumped after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 and after Democrats retook Congress in 2006.


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