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'Going to be a slow process'

BY LAUREL BLACKlblack@paducahsun.com

More than a year after national gun control talks led to skyrocketing ammunition purchases, local retailers say they still struggle to keep their shelves stocked.

After the U.S. Senate defeated several measures last April that would have expanded gun control, the debate died down. But the demand for ammunition didn't, and both local and national businesses continue to face shortages.

"(Customers) are always asking when it's going to end. I don't have an answer, because I don't know there is an end that I could predict," Dunn's Outdoors store manager Mark Ray said.

Area retailers report that 9 mm, .380, .480 and .45 caliber ammunition has proven difficult to come by, but the biggest shortage they've seen is in .22 cartridges, particularly .22 Long Rifle.

"For the most part, it's been over a year since we've had any decent supply of .22 ammunition," Ray said. "Nearly every home in the Southeast has a .22 rifle of some sort. The 4-H (Club), your Boy Scouts, they all shoot .22s."

The .22 caliber cartridge is most often used in target shooting and varmint hunting, according to John Driskill, president of Driskill Tactical Training. Until recently, he said, it stood as one of the more affordable types of cartridge, but ammunition prices have increased across the board.

Vendors and gun owners have their theories for the reason behind the current shortages but are reluctant to pinpoint just one cause.

"Ask five different people why the ammunition supply is in the state it's in, you'll get five different opinions," Driskill said. "I think it's a combination of things going on."

Eric Benson, owner of Benson Sporting Goods in Murray, has noticed that demand for firearms and ammunition often correlates with national politics.

"It's kind of followed the presidency, really," he said. "The first time Bill Clinton ran, we saw the gun market boosted highly."

President Barack Obama's election in 2008 also coincided with a spike in business, but the biggest Benson has seen followed the president's 2012 re-election and the national discussion of stricter gun control in light of the Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

"We as an industry have never seen anything that was quite as hot as that was in that time frame," he said.

Benson added that, while panic among gun owners seems to have leveled off, major manufacturers still appear to be scrambling to keep up with the increased demand. Most of the ammunition on his shelves comes from orders he placed up to a year ago.

"Once (the manufacturers) got behind a year ago, they can't catch up. They're running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and so far haven't been able to get the inventory back to where they want it," he said.

Benson said he's tried to adapt to the shortage by thinking ahead. He put in orders for hunting ammunition several months ahead of deer season, and continues to submit back-orders to as many distributors as he can.

"We have to really, really plan ahead. You're ordering for way down the road, and if you don't do that, you're sitting there with a bunch of empty shelves," he said.

One law enforcement agency said a similar change in buying patterns has helped it survive the shortage. Robert Estes, training officer at the Paducah Police Department, said he now looks ahead and purchases ammunition - namely .40 Smith & Wesson and .223 rounds - in bulk at the start of the fiscal year.

"We haven't had any issues as far as getting ammo," he said. "I know ammo's not out there as much as it was, and I can't call today and expect my ammo to be delivered tomorrow. I have to plan ahead for it more," he said.

Local vendors, including Benson, Dunn's Outdoors and Paducah Shooter's Supply, say they continue to place limits on how much of a certain caliber of ammunition consumers can buy on a given day. The restrictions vary depending on their stock.  

"It doesn't help that much," Ray said of the store-imposed restrictions. "It prolongs it (the availability) for about five minutes."

Although they don't expect recovery to be quick, retailers are optimistic that the shortages will eventually subside.

"It's going to be a slow process," Benson said. "It's a tough situation, but I think it's slowly getting better."

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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