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East Texas stores ration ammo as shortage affects law enforcement

By Sarah Thomas sthomas@news-journal.com
April 6, 2013 at 10 p.m.


A nationwide ammunition shortage prompted Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano to notify deputies in March that they would have to supply their own ammunition for this year's firearm qualifications - something Cerliano had never done in 13 years in office.

The sheriff was able to pull the plug on that plan this past week, when the department's bullet order, placed more than 60 days ago, finally came in.

The shipment arrived just in time, since Gregg County deputies must renew their firearm qualifications this month, Cerliano said.

"I have instructed my firearms instructor to place another order so we don't end up in this jam again," Cerliano said, adding that, normally, such an order would not be placed for several more months.

"It's still hard to come by in bulk," the sheriff said.

Like Gregg County, law enforcement agencies nationwide are feeling the squeeze as ammunition flies off the shelves across the country.

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol said the agency was waiting on rifle and shotgun ammunition ordered in November.

The Phoenix Police Department has stopped providing officers with 100 rounds of ammunition per month for practice.

In January, police chiefs in Central Texas said they were having trouble arming their officers because of shortages of assault rifles and ammunition.

James Godell, owner of the The Gun Doctor in Longview, said although he has been forced to limit purchases to the public, he doesn't limit sales to officers.

"If they are buying it for their duty weapons, we don't ration it. We try our best to take care of them first," he said.

Harrison County sheriff's office spokesman Jay Webb said his department has not had any problems maintaining ammunition, but rising prices have hit the department's budget.

"There is an ample supply for training needs, but it is more expensive" he said.

Webb said that stock will be used up in May when deputies in Harrison County complete their firearms qualifications.

He said he didn't believe there would be any problems when the department places its next order except that it could cost more.

Webb said he's seeing about a 20 percent increase in price.

<strong>Fear fuels frenzy</strong>

The national and statewide ammunition shortage continues to push up demand and prices while stripping some store shelves bare as gun owners rush to stockpile ammunition in anticipation of new gun laws.

The fear of new gun legislation stems from a string of mass shootings - Oak Creek, Wis., Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., - that many believe could lead to passage of new, stricter state and federal gun control statutes.

Kim Bowling, assistant manager of Jack of Pawns in Longview, said her store has limited sales to maintain their stock. Customers are only allowed one box of each caliber the store has in stock, including 9 mm, .40 caliber and .45 caliber bullets.

"If we had not put a limit on it when we did, we wouldn't have anything," she said. "We can't find it, and what we do find is very expensive."

The shortage has pushed prices up from $3 to $11 per box in the past 30 days, said Jack of Pawns owner Kay Martin.

Martin said the price of a 50-round box of 9 mm hollow point bullets went from $24.95 to $34.99.

A 25-round box of .40 caliber bullets increased from $24.95 to $32.95, she said.

"We're doing everything we can not to pass the increased prices onto our customers, but if it's going up $10 a box on us, we have to go up $10 a box on the customer," Bowling said.

She added that ammunition for many caliber handguns is difficult to find.

She said long-gun calibers such as .223, .308 and .3030 are also difficult to find.

"Ammo for the .22 long rifle is impossible to get right now," she said.

Bowling believes the military and government requests for ammunition also is adding to the shortage.

<strong>Price gouging</strong>

And, Bowling said, her store now takes whatever ammunition it can get - and she's not alone.

Scalpers also are buying any and every kind of bullet they can find.

"These people are buying it and then selling it on eBay or right out of their trucks, and they are charging more than double for it," Martin said. "They're no better than scalpers."

Although the shortage has caused Martin to increase her price and limit purchases, she said Jack of Pawns is doing better than most gun dealers.

"I'm being told I have more than Gander Mountain and the Bass Pro Shops, so that's good for us," she said.

Martin said she has seen customers come from Midland-Odessa, Texarkana, Little Rock, Ark., Oklahoma and Louisiana - all looking for ammo they can't find closer to home.

"I have a customer base of about 28,000," she said. "I even had a guy call me from Colorado looking for ammo."

Godell, like Bowling, has been forced to limit purchases to his non-law enforcement customers.

The Gun Doctor limits .22 caliber long rifle ammunition to five boxes per transaction, and sales of handgun ammunition has been limited to three boxes per transaction.

"We have to ration it out. If we let them, people would buy up every little thing we have," he said.

The increased demand and the impulse to hoard, Godell said, has led to some customers coming in multiple times per day.

"That's just the loophole in it," he said.

During the 12 years The Gun Doctor has been open, Godell said he has never witnessed a run on firearms and ammunition that comes close to what is happening today.

Godell said he has a wide range of items on back order, including handguns, semi-automatic rifles, primers and gun powder

"We have seen shortages, but this is a new animal altogether," he said.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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