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Rusk County sheriff's office grapples with nation-wide ammo shortage

By Sarah Thomas
Aug. 12, 2013 at 11 p.m.

The nationwide ammunition shortage plaguing gun owners and law enforcement agencies is taking its toll on the Rusk County Sheriff's Department, officials said Monday.

"We've got orders right now that are backlogged," said Rusk County Sheriff's Sgt. David Roberts, adding the department is still waiting on an order placed in February. "It's just hard to get."

Under normal circumstances, Rusk County Sheriff Jeff Price said, orders would be delivered in less than a week but now they are waiting up to 10 months on an ammunition order.

"The main thing is training. It's awful hard to train when you ain't got the ammo," he said.

The department's firearms certified officers must do firearms proficiency training twice a year, one mandated by the department and the other by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education.

"(We have to) cut back on some of the training we want to do because the funding and the ammo just aren't there," the sheriff said. "We still will do the mandated qualifications, but nothing as far as training beyond the standardized qualifications."

Price said he has 50 firearms-certified officers who are required to shoot 50 rounds twice a year during qualifications - meaning the department needs 5000 rounds of handgun ammunition just for the shooting range.

Earlier this year reports that the federal government was buying up millions of rounds of ammunition sparked a nationwide buying frenzy that drained supplies.

In March, Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano notified his deputies they would have to supply their own ammunition for this year's firearms qualifications - something Cerliano had never done in 13 years in office.

The Gregg County sheriff pulled the plug on that plan a week later when the department's shipment of ammunition - on backorder for more than 60 days - finally came in.

Rusk County also has to contend with the rising cost of ammunition.

"There's a bit of an increase but the increase is not as bad as the shortage once you order it," he said. "Three, four years ago I could place an order on a Monday and Thursday it's sitting on my door step."

Price said the department has been waiting for an order of .45 caliber cartridges since February.

The sheriff said he did not foresee asking his officers to supply their own ammunition.

"Fortunately, we haven't reached that point, and I have hopes we never reach that point," Price said, adding deputies already supply their gun belts and firearms.

"They have enough expense on them working with us without that added expense on top," Price said.

However, the department is no longer providing ammunition for practice when deputies choose to visit the shooting range more times than is mandated.

"We stopped providing practice rounds this year because of the cost and shortage. In years passed, we've given officers at least 50 rounds just to practice with. Some years we even gave 100 rounds for practice," Roberts said.

He added he carries three different weapons and must qualify on each - as all officers must qualify on all weapons they carry.

"Our TACT Team (SWAT) has to qualify separately. Theirs is more detailed and requires more ammunition," he said.

State law mandates officers who carry a handgun fire 50 rounds, those who carry a shotgun must fire five rounds. Those who qualify with rifles must fire 20 rounds.

"You're talking about (a bunch) of people having to qualify. At 50 rounds a person, that adds up in a hurry," Roberts said.

Rifle and handgun ammunition is what the department is struggling to find the most, and Price said one of his goals since taking office in January has been trying to maintain a stock that will take the department through 2014.

"In January, we didn't have that much in stock and that's one of my focuses is to make sure we have enough ammo on hand to do everything we need to do," the sheriff said. "We want to have a year's worth in stock."

He said the orders he places this year will be to ensure his officers have ammunition for next year's qualifications.

"When they (the state) are mandating qualifications every 12 months and you're not even sure the ammo is going to be there, it gets really hard," he said.

Laura LeBlanc, spokeswoman for the law enforcement commission, said the agency has heard the complaints from law enforcement officials about the scarcity of ammunition.

At the same time, she said, the agency is not considering allowing waivers for firearms proficiency.

Individual officers can request a waiver, she said, but those waivers for medical purposes or for an officer who is in the military and has to report for duty.

"We haven't seen it (the ammunition shortage) enough to where we would waive anything," LeBlanc said of the commission allowing entire departments to opt out of qualifications.

She added the commission's rules on firearms proficiency offer departments a break in that they do not require officers to qualify using duty ammunition.

"The way our firearms proficiency standards work is they can go to any place to get ammo to demonstrate their shooting," she said.

She recommended departments not get stuck waiting for orders suggesting they look to smaller retail suppliers.

But Kay Martin, owner of Jack of Pawns, said Monday her store is still struggling to find certain calibers, including .22 long rifle, 9 mm, .357 SIG and .45 long colt.

"The 9 mm, which is what a lot of police departments are looking for, is very difficult to find," she said. "We just can't locate it anywhere, and if we do, the prices are so high we just don't buy it because we don't want to have to pass the high prices on to our customers."

The shortage has pushed prices from $3 to $11 per box in April and Martin said those prices probably won't go down any time soon.

But Martin believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

"A lot of it is easing up," she said, adding her store has been preparing for the upcoming hunting season by stocking up and keeping orders placed for hunting ammo.



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