Run on ammunition stripping shelves at Lowcountry gun stores

East Coast Guns customers wanting to purchase ammunition are finding it in short supply and are limited on how much they can buy. Buy this photo

More than 300 million guns are out there somewhere — one for nearly every man, woman and child in the United States. But not nearly enough ammo, apparently.

If you go

What: Charleston Gun & Knife Show

When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Exchange Park Fairgrounds, 9850 Hwy. 78, Ladson

Admission: Adults, $8. Under 12, free

More info: gunshow trader.com/gun-shows/charleston-gun-show

Local firearm dealers have had to limit ammunition purchases by customers in the midst of a run of stockpile-buying that has been stripping supplies of the most popular calibers from the shelves. The run leaves dealers to search among distributors for orders that are sold as soon as they become available.

By the numbers

313,914,040

Estimated 2012 United States population

310,000,000

Estimated number of guns in the United States

64%

Southern married men who own at least one gun

48%

Non-Southern married men who say they own a gun

40%

Americans who say there is at least one gun at home

38%

People in the South who own guns

30%

People nationwide who own guns

27%

People who owned guns in 2000

U.S. Census Bureau, Congressional Research Service, Gallup Poll

Dealers are holding customers to a few or even one box at a time, when there’s any ammunition of that caliber left on the shelf to buy.

“We want to make sure all our customers have the same chance for target shooting,” said Ron Sprovero, owner of East Coast Guns in Summerville. ATP Gunshop and Range, also in Summerville, and Carolina Rod and Gun in West Ashley also reported limiting some purchases.

Runs that empty the shelf tend to happen every few years, particularly after elections or political moves that leave customers concerned about possible new regulations, said Mike Kent of Kent and Associates.

“People who just got in the game or who are panicked right now” are causing the current onslaught, said Kent, whose company puts on gun shows in the region, including the Charleston Gun and Knife Show at the Ladson Fairgrounds set for Feb. 16 and 17.

“Ammunition is expensive. It has gone through the roof. It’s kind of crazy right now,” he said. As just one example, a 1,000-round case of .223 caliber cartridges has jumped from $400 to a range from $800 to $1,000.

Ammunition tends to be in shorter supply this time of year as manufacturing slows down after the holidays. The current run has exacerbated that shortage and left manufacturers scrambling.

Some customers anticipate the runs and tend to buy by the case or cases. They routinely keep hundreds if not thousands of rounds on hand, and wait until prices drop to buy again, Kent said.

“I think the people who have bought a lot of ammo are sitting and laughing right now,” he said.

This round of clear-the-shelves ammo buying comes on the heels of a surge in gun purchases, itself on the heels of new calls for restrictions following the Newtown, Conn., elementary school mass shooting in December. President Barack Obama’s administration is pushing restrictions such as banning “assault weapons” — semi-automatic, large-magazine firearms such as the one used in Newtown.

New gun buyers in the Lowcountry and the state have driven the number of concealed-weapons-permit applications to levels never seen before.

About three times as many people have permits now as had them in 2008. The number of permit applications nearly tripled from 2011 to 2012.

The buying spree has been so pronounced that the number of federal background checks for concealed weapon permits nationwide declined in January, apparently because dealers simply ran out of guns, according to an Associated Press analysis. The largest declines were in Southern states, where a higher percentage of residents tend to be gun owners.

“Serious sport shooters keep enough (ammunition) on hand and won’t pay the crazy prices,” said Matt Smith of West Ashley, who doesn’t buy more than he wants for practice, but knows people who have bought more than they normally would.

“I think some of their panic is warranted. People get nervous when the Second Amendment (right to bear arms) is broached,” he said. “I think people should be able to protect their person, their families and their property with anything the government has, so long as the person is law abiding.”

The shortage is expected to drive more buyers to gun shows such as the Charleston show, where ammunition tends to be for sale in large quantities by the case or the bulk bag rather than by the box.

Most of Kent’s shows attract four or five ammunition vendors, he said. Individual vendors have been skipping some shows to save supplies for bigger shows.

One dealer canceled a Myrtle Beach show appearance this weekend to have the ammo for Charleston next weekend, he said.

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