- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2020

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (AP) - Gun shops, big box or locally owned, said they’re struggling to keep popular firearms and ammunition stocked because of supply shortages and increased demand.

Nationwide, sales have skyrocketed, driven by new buyers citing coronavirus pandemic uncertainty, social unrest over police killings of Black people and concerns about violence in a contested election. Major gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson Brands Inc. CEO Mark Peter Smith credited 40% of sales to people buying firearms for the first time, according the September call to investors.

Locally, a lot of the same dynamics are playing out, according to gun stores.

Clerks from Dunham’s Sports and Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald that popular bullet sizes like 9mm or 40 caliber are constantly sold out and that gun sales already exceeded last year’s sales. Scott Shaver at Small Town Arms said he had to pay more than street price for ammunition to get it for customers, but said he wasn’t selling firearms at the same rate.

“My walls are filled with guns, my cases are full of guns,” he said, attributing that to people’s preference to big box stores.

Terry Bronson, who’s been at the Chadron ACE Hardware for five-and-a-half years, said gun sales have been steady, mainly from locals who already own guns, The problem’s been bullets.

“The ammo supply is fairly depleted, can’t keep any caliber on the shelf,” he said.

John Erickson at Flatwater Arms said business in Bridgeport is thriving beyond seasonal buys, like waterfowl guns.

“Oh, my goodness, this year’s been tremendous, it’s hard to keep things resupplied,” he said.

He offers gun-smithing and cleaning services,concealed carry classes and other hunting and fishing gear to offset the down periods in gun and ammo sales, but 2020 is the exception, where gun sales ticked up during March, and haven’t slackened.

Erickson, who’s run the shop since 2014 said a lot of first-timers have signed up for concealed carry classes and purchased guns at the shop.

“Just last month, I had four people sign up for the class, never owned firearms, never owned ammunition before, brand new,” he said. “I was able to get 240 rounds of 9mm for them, but I had to pay street price, more than twice as expensive.”

Erickson said one advantage is the 15 suppliers he works with sell ammo pretty much on a first-come, first-serve basis, if you’re willing to shell out.

Dave Phelps at Kisst Organics in Sidney said prices tripled for bullets.

“Our normal source of ammo doesn’t have it, they’re sold out,” he said, adding that .223 caliber ammo used to cost between $0.28 and $.30 now costs $0.80 to a dollar per shot.

“You can’t find any normal, utilitarian handguns, neither,” he told the Star-Herald. “You can find a $2,000 or a $3,000 handgun, very high end, but nothing for everyday use.”

Phelps, who’s worked in the business for seven years, said while sales have been high since March, the last few weeks have ramped up.

“The election is what really got everyone gearing up,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of first-time gun buyers in here who don’t understand how the process works, how permitting works.”

Phelps said specialty items such as silencers or high-capacity magazines are also in high demand, as well as firearms like AR-15s or shotguns, summing by saying: “If you got it, you can sell it,”

Hard to come-by supply hasn’t affected local law enforcement, officials said.

“Our shipments from distributers are a little slower, but we planned ahead and we have plenty of practice and duty rounds,” Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer said.

Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman said the small size of the office means purchasing large quantities of bullets once or twice a year, and they were unaffected when they purchased three months ago.

“We have heard about shortages from distributers, I had one tell me, ’If you’re ordering today, you’d get it in December,” he said.

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