Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ammo costs, shortages bust budgets, slow sales

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 6/19/2013

Laurie Dunn did the math in her head, but she didn’t like the answer.

“We just had 25 to 30 officers at the firing range, and basically every officer goes through one box of bullets,” the Osage County sheriff said. “A box of .45 caliber bullets, with 50 per box, costs $25.15 — that’s about 50 cents per bullet.”

Laurie Dunn did the math in her head, but she didn’t like the answer.

“We just had 25 to 30 officers at the firing range, and basically every officer goes through one box of bullets,” the Osage County sheriff said. “A box of .45 caliber bullets, with 50 per box, costs $25.15 — that’s about 50 cents per bullet.”

By conservative estimates, at $25.15 per box, the trip to the firing range cost Dunn’s department about $650 in bullets alone.

“I don’t even want to think about that — it’s outrageous,” Dunn said. “That same box of bullets cost me about $12 or a little more five years ago.”

The Ottawa Police Department has experienced similar price increases, the force’s Capt. Adam Weingartner said.

“The department’s ammunition costs have increased steadily for several years,” Weingartner said. “Depending on the round being purchased, prices have at least doubled in the last five years.”

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama being elected to a second term, elementary school shootings and large ammunition orders from other federal agencies have fueled the shortage in supply, manufacturers and political observers across the country have said in recent months, according to media reports.  

The Osage County Sheriff’s Office prefers to buy its ammunition locally when possible, Dunn said.

Allowances for price increases are taken into consideration when the Ottawa Police Department’s purchases are sent out for bids, Weingartner said. The department seeks at least three bids per order.

Shipping delays

Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, made a pitch to Ottawa city commissioners Monday to increase the line item in the department’s budget for ammunition from $5,800 in 2013 to $21,119 in 2014 — not only to account for price increases but in an effort to stockpile supplies because of months-long delays in receiving orders.

“Due to the steadily increasing costs and one-year advanced ordering — due to an 18-month delivery schedule — this will provide two years of ammunition,” Butler said. “I plan to return to one year of purchasing in 2015.”

Because it is taking the police department longer to receive ammunition orders, the department is using more of its stored ammunition, Weingartner said.

“We don’t want to get to a critical level without receiving supplies,” he said.

The Osage County Sheriff’s Office has experienced shipping delays of up to six months, Dunn said.

The reason for the rising costs, short supplies and shipping delays can be summed up on two fronts — Iraq and Afghanistan, Dunn said.

“We have seen costs steadily increase the last few years, and I think it’s because of the increased demand from the military,” Dunn said. “And it’s not just here locally. This is happening across the country.”

The military has to be a priority for ammunition manufacturers because of the wars, Dunn said.

“No question the military has to have the bullets, and they are using some of the same bullets we use,” the sheriff said.

Butler shared a similar theory, based on the increased needs of the military, at Monday’s city commission study session. He also pointed to an unusually large ammunition request from the Department of Homeland Security that recently has attracted national media attention. The chief did not make a prediction about what effect that potential order could have on supply.

The Department of Homeland Security recently put out bids for up to 1.2 billion rounds of ammunition, according to media reports, raising eyebrows across the country — from Congressmen to gun enthusiasts. The department purchased 103.2 million bullets in 2012. The agency, which includes more than 100,000 law enforcement personnel, uses about two-thirds of its ammunition for qualifications or training purposes, according to media reports.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn , R-Okla., himself a purported gun enthusiast, questioned publicly if the agency’s five-year purchase plan was fueling the national shortage, according to media reports.

Local ammo supplies

Tim Van Leiden, owner of The Gun Guys, 412 S Main St., Ottawa, said his store had been experiencing a lag time in receiving orders of ammunition for certain types of guns.

“It’s better now than it has been the past six months,” he said. “We’ve had a hard time getting Rimfire ammunition, and it was real scarce. [Ammunition for guns] like the .22 magnum, .22 long rifle, .17 HMR (Hornady Rimfire Magnum) and .9 mm has been real hard to get. Everything else is in pretty good shape for the time being.”

Van Leiden said the long wait to get ammunition has hurt gun sales. The Gun Guys has had .22 caliber ammunition ordered in January that still hasn’t come in.

“It’s hard to sell guns when you can’t supply the ammo,” he said. “We try to set some [ammunition] back when we do get it in for either purchasing a firearm or shooting in the range.”

His supply hasn’t been completely out for awhile, he said, and thinks it’s going to take the manufacturers some time to get caught up on production.

“I think people went into a panic mode after the election around the first of the year,” he said. “People were afraid they were going to take guns and ammo away so they started buying everything up.”

Costs of ammunition may be on the rise for police departments, but Van Leiden said his buying price has gone down.

“Prices are coming back down on stuff already, but it’s becoming easier to get,” he said. “I think it’s going to get better at some point.”

Ammunition supplier Hornady Manufacturing, Grand Island, Neb., said U.S. politics has fueled a run on ammunition.

“The current political climate has caused extremely high demand on all shooting industry products, including ours,” Hornady said on its website.

The company is one of the largest independent producers of bullets in the world, according to its website.

“Empty retail shelves, long back orders and exaggerated price increases on online auction sites — all fueled by rumors and conjecture — have amplified concerns about the availability of ammunition and firearms-related items,” Hornady said. “We are producing as much as we can; much more than last year, which was a lot more than the year before, etc. No one wants to ship more during this time than we do. We appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience. We don’t know when the situation will improve, so please bear with us a little longer.”

Firearms training

Richard Niendstedt, Ottawa city manager, asked Ottawa Chief Butler if the department could use simulators for some of its training to cut down on the number of trips to the firing range.

The police department does use a simulator, Butler said, but it cannot replace the training that is required on the firing range — which incorporates a multitude of targets, obstacles and scenarios to put officers through the paces.

A regional office of the federal Housing and Urban Development agency loaned its firearms training simulator to the Ottawa Police Department, Weingartner said.

“Officers with HUD, based in Kansas City, use our range for their firearms training and qualification,” Weingartner said. “HUD received a new system and loaned their older system to the Ottawa Police Department. Our department uses the system as part of new officer training and incorporates it into our winter firearms training program.”

For now, the Osage County Sheriff’s Office is operating on the assumption that shipping delays will continue, and the department is planning accordingly, Dunn said.  

“I loaned a box of bullets to a local police department officer [to take to a training academy] because he couldn’t find what he needed,” Dunn said. “I just told him, ‘Here you go — get it back to me when your ammo finally comes in.’”

Herald Staff Writer Abby Eckel contributed to this report.

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