Vermont gunowners, living under the most liberal set of gun laws in America, aren't exempt from the current national ammunition shortage-in fact, they appear to be stockpiling weapons and bullets at rates greater than before Y2K or after 9-11. But the current "run" on ammo hasn't been triggered by fears of cyberspace mayhem or terrorist attacks-instead the current panic has erupted thanks to a raw material shortage that was worsened by fears of possible, sweeping U.S. anti-gun legislation.
Most Vermont gunshop owners we talked with agreed that public fears over the Obama administration's anti-gun stance are now driving the widening ammo shortage.
According to David Pidgeon, owner of Pidgeon's Gun Shop in New Haven since 1959, a shortage of raw materials, coupled with "Obama fears," are to blame.
British news sources, such as the Daily Telegraph, have reported recently that the Chinese government has been buying up and stockpiling materials used in the manufacture of weapons.
"None of my wholesalers have any ammo-and what they have is sold immediately on the day it comes to them. They've been limiting sales to five boxes per dealer. Recently, I have bought some cases containing various caliber bullets-a truckload. But it's small compared to what I usually purchase."
Pidgeon said he is running out of .380, 9mm, .40 S&W, .40 S&W and .45 ACP ammunition. And it doesn't look like he'll be able to replace what he has already sold any time soon.
"Even my shotgun shell quantities are below average although I can still get some turkey ammo for hunters," he said.
Pidgeon said ammo prices have increased 25 percent since February.
Are conservative political fears fueling the shortage?
"Well, it seems to me, in part, that the price of metals is driving this-the price of scrap has gone down," Pidgeon said. "Companies bought up raw materials, such as brass and lead, when the price was high; maybe by next fall there will be a reduction, but who knows?"
Pidgeon added that the shortage isn't just about raw materials being gobbled up by foreign interests.
"Obama is scaring people to buy and horde," he said. "And price is not a concern for many people. 'If you got it, I'll take it,' they'll say. A customer will spend $2,000-$8,000 at a time for ammo. People are driving here from a long way just to buy guns and ammunition."
Pidgeon reported that .22 reloading components are not available and primers are in short supply. But it's not all bad news.
"My hand gun sales are through the roof," he said. "I've also seen, in the past three months, people selling their guns to make payments on their taxes, insurance, vehicles, even health care. These folks would never normally sell their guns, but they lost jobs and need to raise money. (But there are people behind them ready to buy these guns.)"
The New Haven gunshop owner is swamped with weapon repair work. "This side of the business is unbelievable," Pidgeon said.
According to Dick Phillips, owner of Vermont Field Sports in Middlebury, the current ammo shortage is all about perception.
"The materials shortage began in 2008. The new president is fueling it," Phillips said.
Phillips recently rebuilt his store after a fire destroyed it a few years ago. Thanks to the current shortage, his business is doing well.
Carl DeCoster, Phillip's veteran gun salesman, said that, "A number of calibers are impossible to get-.380, .45 Long Colt, .223. But we've seen an increase in new gun sales and our used gun sales are good."
DeCoster sees the ammunition shortage as being mostly about politics.
"This is all about public fears of the Democrats-that they will instigate more gun bans. That's why people are hoarding ammo-it's a homeowner's last line of defense. No question, the current crisis has upped our sales. Ammo and guns are sought after. We're trying to keep things back ordered to keep our customers satisfied."
At Datillio's Discount Guns, Tackle & Archery located on Shelburne Road in South Burlington, owner Jim Datillio isn't surprised about the current run on guns and ammunition.
"I saw this coming," Datillio said. "I managed to stay ahead of it. I have 30,000 rounds today. But it's tough; many exporters, like Russian companies, aren't lending credits to distributors. If you're a dealer, you have to give them cash up front."
Datillio says his shop is selling everything-rifles, handguns, ammo.
"It's flying out the door," he said. "Even local law enforcement agencies are calling us looking for ammo."
Datillio said Century Arms, an ammunition manufacturer located in St. Albans, Vt., recently received two $125,000 cashier checks for ammunition stocks-the twin purchases completely cleaned out the small manufacturer's inventory of ammo.
"People are afraid there's going to be civil unrest and that our government will turn on us," Datillio said. "Now you see Homeland Security saying that citizens stockpiling food or ammo are, well, terrorist suspects. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is blaming the U.S. for Mexico's gun problems, U.N. troops are being trained here-it's crazy. I think our government is running scared. And the law-abiding citizen is suffering as a result.
"Obama is the reason," Datillio added. "I don't know. But when H.R. 45 came up in Congress-Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act that would require gunowners to apply for five-year licenses to own firearms, and would give the U.S. Attorney General broad authority over the program-things went wild. The idea of fingerprinting, mug shots, medical records made available to the government, growing socialist behavior in the nation-everyone started to panic.
Datillio reported getting telephone calls from gunowners in Texas, Michigan, New York, Maine, New Hampshire and California looking for ammo.
"It's crazy," Datillio said again.
Adam Nielson, a businessman and gunowner from Colchester, was shopping at Datillio's gunshop last week. He was looking to acquire more ammunition to beef up his home stores for target shooting and self-defense.
"There's two reasons this (shortage) is happening," Nielson said. "One, there are fears that the new Obama administration is likely to ban or restrict guns. And, two, manufacturers have marked up their products. The price has doubled, even tripled, since 2006. Next week it might be higher. That's why I am buying now. The military is buying, too. The government could be stockpiling materials to artificially manipulate the market to take civilian ammo out of the picture. Who knows?"
In Rutland and Williston, both Wal-Mart and Dick's Sporting Goods are large sellers of various firearm and ammunition supplies-from hunting and target rounds to rifles and shotguns. Both stores have ammo shortages, according to several anonymous customers.
When asked to comment about the ammunition shortage at these local big-box stores, corporate officials representing both Rutland and Williston Wal-Mart and Dick's stores did not return telephone calls.