Guns and ammo: stuck between a rock and a hard place

Those wanting to buy defensive firearms and ammunition are having enormous difficulty finding what they want right now.  Most suitable firearms have been bought, to the point that many dealers can’t get replacement stocks.  (Commander Zero points to a major distributor that’s 98% out of stock on its handgun inventory.)  I know of at least two gun dealers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who are seriously concerned about their future, because they’ve sold everything they had, and won’t be able to refill their shelves for several months.  However, during that time they still have to pay rent and utility bills, and pay their staff.  Can they survive that long without income?  It’s a tough question.

I mentioned last week that several AR-15 rifles and pistols would be available in my area soon, and asked whether any readers were interested.  I’ve had a lot of responses:  26 people have signed up to be kept informed.  Sadly, I’ve had to warn them that if they’re expecting bargain-basement prices, they’re doomed to disappointment.  In a recent e-mail to them, I cited the example of the base model of Ruger’s AR-556 carbine, a popular and (formerly) economical choice.  For the past year or more, Ruger’s recommended retail price has been $799.00.  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the riots, they could be found in many gun shops for $599.00 without difficulty.  Now, I can find only one dealer who has stock, and it wants $849.88 for them!  That’s a 42% increase in the “street price” in only about 4 months.  Other AR-15 models are showing similar price stresses, and are likely to become even more expensive over the rest of the year.  I’ve seen many used AR-15’s in good condition selling for as much as the manufacturer’s MSRP for new ones, and there’s no shortage of takers for them.  Similar trends are visible in the cost of essential accessories.  A popular low-end red dot sight was freely available for under $75 a few months ago:  today, it’s $99.99 at the lowest-priced major outlet, ranging up to $125 from others.

Tamara Keel makes an interesting observation about personal defense rifles.

Available evidence shows that there are a large number of first-time buyers looking for something to defend home and hearth, rather than existing gun hobbyists adding a twelfth or thirteenth AR15 to an existing collection.

Exhibit A would be that, while budget AR15’s have disappeared from dealer shelves, there’s no real shortage of lowers, lower receiver parts kits, or completed uppers at most of the vendors I’ve checked. You may not be able to buy a Ruger AR-556 or Smith M&P15 at your local gun store right now, but you can go to Palmetto State Armory or CDNN and buy the parts to build all the ARs you want.

That was not the case during the ’08 or ’13 panics, where stripped lowers were rationed and you couldn’t find a LRPK (lower parts kit) or BCG (bolt carrier group) for love nor money.

What this tells me is that the current wave of buyers is not largely made up of hobbyists fearing bans, but non-gun-owners wanting to buy a firearm for home defense.

There’s more at the link.

I will note, however, that the selection of AR-15 components has already been drastically reduced, and is shrinking further.  Whereas previously I could have found dozens of examples of the same part at very competitive prices, now almost all the “economy” units are out of stock, and some of the “name” brands too.  Those still available are often priced a lot higher than they were.  For example, at one major vendor 29 BCG’s are currently listed on the first page of their Web site devoted to that component.  However, 18 of them are listed as “Out of Stock”, and only 11 (mostly the more expensive ones) as “In Stock” – some with warnings that only one or two are available.  When more than 60% of their product listings are sold out, including almost all the “budget” items, that speaks volumes.  I think it’s because hobbyists are indeed building more guns, or upgrading those they already have, just as I’ve been doing for my friends recently.  How long many critical AR-15 parts will continue to be available is an open question.  I know some manufacturers are currently reserving all their parts for their own firearm production lines, trying to catch up with the out-of-control demand, rather than selling them to hobbyists at retail.

(Like Tamara, I’ve also noted the – to me – strange phenomenon of enthusiasts owning two or three dozen AR-15’s, or other defensive rifle of their choice.  I can’t understand why, unless they’re planning to equip their own fire teams.  After all, you can only use one rifle at a time!  Sure, have a primary and a backup weapon – that’s common sense.  Have specialized models for special purposes, too, and have at least one for every member of your family who might need one.  However, when people post pictures of a carpeted floor filled with multiple rows of similar rifles, I have to shake my head.  Do they have enough ammunition and magazines to keep them all fed?  How about their other emergency preparations?  With the money they’ve got tied up in those rifles, I could stockpile food and water for a couple of years, fuel my vehicles for the same period, and install a whole-house emergency generator, not to mention buy enough toilet paper to keep me going – you should pardon the expression – for the rest of my life!  I’m glad they’re enjoying their guns, but I hope they haven’t stockpiled them at the expense of other, equally important business.)

Used firearm prices are also soaring.  Tamara notes, in the article I cited above, that defensive shotguns are selling for prices that would have seemed ridiculous a few months ago.  I’m going to sell most of mine soon, because I can no longer use them as well as I used to (thanks to my partly-disabling back injury and advancing years), and I want to take advantage of those prices.  Handguns, too, are suddenly a lot more in demand.  Good-condition used Glocks, SiGs and Springfields are selling for almost the same price as new ones.  As for spare magazines, many are already out of stock.

When it comes to ammunition, manufacturers and vendors are caught between a rock and a hard place.

A pandemic that slowed firearm and ammunition production, coupled with riots across the nation that spiked demand, has left some local gun store owners struggling to keep their shelves stocked.

“This is a multi-headed monster,” Trader Bill’s Materials Manager Philip Kastner said.

“As far as the ammo is concerned, the number one thing you have to have in order to make ammunition is raw materials, being lead and copper,” Kastner said. “So all of the lead mines in the United States are in the state of Missouri; Missouri shut them down the first of March. All of the copper mines are in South America; South America shut them down in April. … The lead mines are now open in Missouri, but getting copper for the casings is one of the choking points.”

Lack of available ammunition due to the pandemic is just part of the problem, he said.

“The other problem is what happened a month ago with the riots,” Kastner said. “COVID hurt the production side of the equation, but the riots spiked the demand side of the equation. So not only are you getting few products into the system, you have a huge demand on the retail side of the equation of people wanting to buy guns and ammunition to protect their houses and homes from rioting. Even though we don’t have that problem in the state of Arkansas, you do have that problem everywhere else. And it has exhausted the pipeline of materials that is coming through.”

. . .

Arego’s Wholesale Guns Owner Roger Latsha said his store has been hit by this “twofold problem,” as well.

“A lot of the manufacturers were closed for a few months, and then they opened up and had to social distance inside their plants, so maybe every other machine may work instead of all of them,” Latsha said. “So their capacity is down below half and demand is up 400% because there’s a huge shortage. … All the rioting and things going on … people are scared. And then when a shortage starts, anytime somebody thinks there’s not going to be any they all run out to get some.”

Again, more at the link.

In such a dire situation, I can only repeat the advice I gave last month:  it’s worth having one or two complete upper receivers (including barrel, BCG, etc.) for your AR-15, chambered for different rounds (and, of course, magazines to feed them).  That will allow you to take advantage of whatever ammunition you can find to keep in practice, and perhaps to defend yourself if the worst happens.  For handguns, a .22LR conversion kit, or a second firearm of the same type chambered for the smaller cartridge, will serve you well.  (For example, Smith & Wesson’s M&P 9 Shield EZ and M&P 380 Shield EZ are almost identical in size, weight and controls to that company’s M&P 22 Compact, making the latter an ideal partner to the former for low-cost practice.  The same applies to the .22LR Glock 44, a useful training companion to the 9mm Glock 19.)

My “primary” AR-15 cartridge is the 5.56x45mm NATO round.  I’m lucky to have a decent stash of it, but others are not so fortunate – and if the shortage goes on for a few years, I won’t have enough to waste a lot of it on regular practice.  Therefore, I’ll be shooting a lot more .22LR through my AR-15, using a CMMG conversion kit in my 5.56mm upper.  I also know a vendor that (until a couple of weeks ago) was selling 1,000-round cases of 7.62x39mm ammo for pre-panic prices.  I bought some to shoot through a 7.62x39mm upper for training purposes, saving my primary rounds for emergencies.  In a pinch, it’ll do well enough for defensive use, too.  (I was shot twice with that round during my younger days.  Even with basic military ball ammo, on both occasions it stopped me, and it hurt like a SOB!)

A final note.  Many ammo manufacturers are tooling up their factories to produce the cartridges in highest demand among shooters;  9mm, 5.56mm, etc.  Normally, at this time of year they’d be churning out hunting ammunition for the forthcoming season.  That won’t happen this year.  It would take too long to switch over the production lines, and the enormous, overwhelming demand for more basic ammo means they can’t afford to take that time.  Therefore, if you need hunting ammo, you’d best buy it now while last year’s stocks are still available.  They’ll be exhausted soon, and I doubt very much whether there’ll be enough reserves in vendors’ warehouses to fill the shelves again.



  1. I suppose it would be prudent to have an actual inventory of one's ammunition. I found that I thought I had lots of 9mm Parabellum on hand, and discovered I did not have that much.

    Perhaps a spreadsheet or an inventory program would do the trick. I wonder if there is an Excel template that some people use?

  2. Libertyman. A simple Excel spreadsheet would be:

    Caliber Type(FMJ, JHP, EIEIO) Quan in Stock Quan need order

    .40SW JHP 475 25
    .40SW FMJ 327 173

    You could run a column for 'Min Quan' and set up 'Quan need order' as an equation like so:

    Column C Column D Column E
    Quan/Stock Quan/Order Quan/Min

    Equation would be, for each space in Column D:


    You could get fancy and combonculate it so that it won't show if you have more than min quan, or you can just manually whack the minquan amount when you are over. Copying the formula and pasting it in when you need it when you run low. Or just deal with a negative value for Quantity to Order.

  3. Well, that just sucked. Stupid Blogger whacked all my carefully spaced Columns, the bastiges.

    Columns read:
    Column A: Caliber
    Column B: Type (which would be FMJ, JHP, APDSDU etc.)
    Column C: Qauntity in Stock
    Column D: Quantity to Order
    Column E: Minimum Quantity (what you want to keep in stock)

    Columns can be shifted around as needed, just need to play with the formula, which is always (Row#)Column (Info Needed) = (Row#)Column Quantity Min – (Row#)Column Quantity in Stock

    Hope this helps

  4. I do something similar to Beans, well, I don't have a minimum quantity as what I want in stock is More. I also track by brand, case / box size, and number of cases / boxes.

  5. We have had some time now since the Obama-caused shortages. They SHOULD have been a lesson for everyone to buy while it is available. Whether it is food water, guns or ammo buy it while you can. When this shortage is over, what will you guys be doing ? BUY, BUY, BUY !

  6. Off topic but I spotted 7 extended magazine shotguns, 2 20ga, 5 12ga along with 2 short barreled Remington 12ga at Dick's. I know Dick's is the last place most of us shop (wife was in Hobby Lobby and I forgot to bring a book). Still, ya'll might know a first time buyer looking for a self protection firearm and has come up short. Sadly no buckshot ammo. It might be worth their while to check their local store.

  7. I use minimum acceptable quantity per type as a, well, minimum. Go over it? Yes, when possible, most assuredly. And serves as warning when, during feast times, that item needs to be topped off or not used if possible.

    I always have 'minimum quantities' on items. From cans of beans to containers of rice to freedom seeds and pew-pew units. Otherwise I'll keep depleting the quantities until I notice the cupboard is bare.

    And, libertyman, glad to help. Doing overly complex Excel thingamabobs used to be my life.

  8. I wintered over in Okeechobee Fl. They have a nice range/ gun-shop and ammunition manufactory “ center of mass” which I attend every senior and veterans day when I’m down there. In jan and feb things were very slow, per usual. In march, wow, in stead of being the only customer as I was half the time, there were always multiple people buying guns, there was little 9mm or .223 to be had. Interestingly I didnt see increase in range usage. Fortuitously I had brought .22 and 9 mm with me and had made a couple of large mail order purchases in jan and feb. Last night and today I have visited Cabalas and 2 other gun shops and am amazed at the empty and understocked shelves. I have been reading about the shortages but hadn't really seen them for myself. I certainly wouldn't want to be in the position of needing a gun or ammo now. There appears to be a moderate number of 9mm hand guns but almost no .45’s. I’ve never shot .40 so I didn't even ask. Very few .357’s Or .22’s either.

  9. I've noticed much the same as you and others. My LGS is short on nearly everything that shoots, and the the ammo stocks are thin. I'm just lucky I have an adequate supply for now. I do keep looking though.

  10. I just received notification from my LGS this morning that the check is available for the AR-556 I consigned two weeks ago. It was my only AR, with less than 500 rounds through it, but I just really, really hate the design. And with seven 30-round mags and one 40-round mag added, it sold for more than a new one was two weeks ago. Not a lot more, and in retrospect I could have probably asked more for it. But I got enough out of it that if he can find one I'll be able to replace it with a new Mini-14, which I much prefer.

    Regarding ammo, a neighbor just bought his wife the Sig she wanted. But alas, no ammo. I think I have a partial box of 9mm my sister gave me from when she took a class a few years ago that I'll give them. It's not much, but it's factory, and it will be free.

  11. I don't have an AR or AK pattern rifle, but my 8mm Mausers or levers in 30-30, 45 Colt, 357, and .22 would probably give me access to one of the "assault" rifles if the worst case scenario were to come to pass.

  12. With Excel (and probably any other modern spreadsheet program), you can format the cells to change color based on the value displayed in that cell. For example, if the quantity of 124-grain 9x19MM JHP ammo on hand gets lower than, say, 300 rounds above minimum acceptable quantity, the cell background turns amber. This will alert you that it's time to start looking to conserve and/or restock, before you run too low.

  13. One thing I've found that is still in stock most places is .30 carbine. I've bought a can of RoK surplus on strippers (1080 rounds) and 1,000 rounds of Prvi Partizan SP rounds since May. Prices have only gone up about $30-40 a case (1000 rounds) since the can of RoK I bought (because my kids had shot through most of my previous stockpile) in early March, before the craziness started.

    The supply of M1 carbines is pretty limited, and a lot of folks don't think of it as a defensive gun or round. But it's a very handy little gun, and with SP rounds, it will do the job.

    So now I'm looking at getting an Ultimak rail, flashlight mount, and some kind of low-rise red dot to kit out one of my Inlands for home defense. (Not that I'm short of ARs, or shotguns, for that job. Although I am quite thin on 12 ga 00.)

  14. Two things I learned while Obama was in office:

    1. Figure out what you need and acquire it when it becomes available. Done.
    2. Don't post pictures or detailed descriptions on the internet. Also done.

    I currently have more than I expect to use in my lifetime. This allows me to apply the funding to other items and to training that I hope I never need to use. Biggest one was advanced first aid classes and building a good medical kit. No, I'm not an EMT, but I'm a lot better than the incompetent person who barely knows how to put a bandaid on a boo-boo… just food for thought.

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