Bullet shortage tales spur police to load up
By Rebecca S. Green
The Journal Gazette
Some area law enforcement agencies have stocked up on ammunition in recent months after rumors of shortages and backorders caused by increased usage by military and law enforcement in the ongoing war on terror.
Though Jeffersonville-based Kiesler Police Supply and Ammunition Co. sent a letter in February to law enforcement agencies in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, alerting them to a continued ammunition shortage, many local agencies are not worried about running out of bullets.
“We wish to advise every police and sheriff department or agency in our territory (whether or not you are a customer of Kiesler’s) that deliveries of duty and practice ammunition are horribly backordered,” the letter read.
The Bluffton Police Department received the letter, and Chief Tammy Shafer informed the city’s board of works about the matter not long afterward.
Her second-in-command, Deputy Chief Nathan Huss, said the department made an extra order at the beginning of March, in part to combat what Kiesler promised were lengthy delays in receiving certain types of ammunition.
Increased usage by the military and law enforcement, as well as a number of foreign manufacturers ceasing U.S. sales, has contributed to the backlog, which is “the worst shortage Kiesler’s has seen in its 35 years of being in business,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Journal Gazette.
The letter to police goes on to indicate that .223-caliber rounds, used in assault rifles such as the M-16, are backlogged until the end of 2007 or early 2008 for both training rounds and ammunition carried on duty.
The M-16 and its descendants, such as the M-16A1 and others, have been the primary infantry rifle used by the U.S. military for more than 40 years, and are also used by a number of other countries.
Officials from Kiesler declined to comment for this story but on Friday referred calls to ATK, a weapons system company.
No correlation between the increased demands for ammunition by law enforcement agencies, particularly training ammunition, should be drawn to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Brian Grace, spokesman for weapons manufacturer ATK.
The company manufacturers a large amount of ammunition used in the civilian, law enforcement and military sectors, doing an estimated $1.3 billion in business in its Ammunition Systems Group and produces about 1.5 billion rounds of small-caliber ammunition annually.
ATK’s law enforcement ammunition, both training and duty rounds, is manufactured at plants in Minnesota, while small-caliber rounds for military use are made in Missouri, according to the company’s Web site.
Grace said ATK has ramped up production of training ammunition, as well as increased capacity at its plants, making bullets “24/7.”
He said the move was driven 99 percent by demand, rather than by a shortage in supply.
And those who are having a tough time acquiring certain types of ammunition should check with their supplier’s representative, he said.
Searching for supply
Huntington police officer Dale Osborn has served as the department’s firearms instructor for the past decade. He said the .45-caliber is the hardest round to obtain, the only backlog for his department’s supplier, Precision Cartridge Inc. in Hobart.
Officials at Precision told Huntington that some suppliers were slower because of an increase in the military’s need for bullets, Osborn said.
Slightly cheaper than the rounds carried in officers’ weapons, training rounds make up the bulk of police departments’ ammunition purchases, unlike the more complicated duty ammunition, which expands after contact with a target.
Sgt. Chad Hill, public information officer at the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department, said his department has had such a hard time obtaining the .223 rounds needed for the M-16A1 military surplus rifles carried by the deputies they have had to buy the ammunition from the Czech Republic.
The Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department spends about $22,000 in training ammunition and $4,000 buying duty ammunition each year, Hill said.
He said the department has also had difficulty getting training ammunition for the duty-issued .45-caliber handguns and 9 mm handguns used by the department. While the department has been told to expect an easier time buying bullets by August, there is no guarantee, Hill said.
The department tries to keep a surplus on hand, Hill said, but the department tries to keep that a secret from the officers so they don’t shoot off too much during training.
Michael Ward, executive director of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, said none of the members of the association has contacted the organization and to advise of any shortages.
“I’m sure there’s a whole variety of factors, not the least of which is the demands for certain rounds because of the growing size of police departments and federal government needs,” Ward said. “It was not an alarming thing to us or to any of our chiefs,” he said.
And even with Kiesler’s notice, area law enforcement officials do not seem to be in any way alarmed.
Bluffton’s Deputy Chief Huss said the department ordered two cases of .45-caliber duty rounds, with each case containing 1,000 bullets, and 20 cases of .45-caliber training rounds. But after receiving the letter in February, the department ordered an additional nine cases of training rounds and one additional case of duty ammunition.
They also ordered 500 more rounds of the .223-caliber ammunition for rifles, in addition to the 800 ordered earlier, Huss said.
Demand, costs rise
Not only has some ammunition taken longer to obtain, it is also much more expensive.
In its warning to area police departments, Kiesler officials said that while the production of ammunition has almost doubled since two years ago, and prices have increased 20 to 30 percent, shortages are worse today than last year, according to the letter.
Bill Hartsing, who owns H&H Firearms in Fort Wayne, said the price of ammunition has gone up more than seven times in recent years. On Friday, he heard it was going to jump again, possibly by 10 percent.
“There’s not so much a shortage if you are willing to pay for it,” he said.
Hartsing said the .223 rounds are harder to find, but the price is “staggering.”
His company is now paying more for ammunition than it sold it for a year ago.
The ammunition makers that are of any size are now mostly making rounds for the government, Hartsing said.
The spike in price is also likely influenced by the steep costs of metals like copper and lead, Hartsing said.
“You get what you can get and buy what’s available at the best price you can get it,” he said.
He said he has never seen the market this tight for ammunition, and compared the situation to the hikes in gas prices.
“It’s all a game,” he said.
Fort Wayne police officer R.J. Sutphin said he had heard rumors of an ammunition shortage last year, affecting only the .223-rifle ammunition.
An instructor at the Fort Wayne Police Academy, Sutphin said it affected a couple classes he taught.
But the area’s largest law enforcement agency has plenty of duty ammunition on hand, he said.
“I was down in the ammo room, and there’s just case after case,” Sutphin said. “We’ve got plenty of bullets.”
Area law enforcement agencies use a number of different types of firearms. If they purchase ammunition through Jeffersonville-based Kiesler Police Supply and Ammunition Co., they may have to wait:
•Assault rifles such as the M-16 are used by some departments. These weapons use a
.223-caliber cartridge for training and duty which is back-ordered until the end of 2007 or 2008.
•Handguns carried by officers can vary in caliber, though many are 9 mm, .40 caliber or .45 caliber. These rounds, both training and duty, are back-ordered from five to six months from date of order.
•Shotgun shells, buckshot and slugs are back-ordered 90 to 120 days.
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