Few were surprised when, in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., two responses occurred immediately.
The first was the call for tighter gun control by anti-gun groups and elected representatives of the federal government.
Then gun shops and sporting goods businesses were overwhelmed with customers who wanted to buy two products, semiautomatic rifles and pistols and the ammunition to shoot them.
Immediately, gun and ammunition dealers were unable to find rifles like AR-15s and AK-47s or the ammo those guns used. Later, semiauto handguns began to disappear, most of which, like Glocks, Berettas, Sig Sauers and others, could be loaded with “high capacity” magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Then, when semiauto weapons sold out, the shoppers went after lever action rifles and anything else that could be fired rapidly.
For most of the panic buyers, it was the fear that the Congress would ban the sale of semiauto weapons and high capacity magazines – those that hold more then 10 rounds.
At the top of the government’s list were the so-called “assault rifles,” including the AR-15 and the AK-47, which have physical features similar to those used by military forces around the world but which, basically, are just semiautomatic rifles. They fire one round with each pull of the trigger.
“We started to run out of ammo in December,” said Beeville gun shop Americana Arms owner Jeff Massengill. “People started to buy it up after the school shooting.”
“We never did run out completely, but we went weeks at a time without some calibers,” Massengill said. “We do a large enough volume so that we always get some.”
The first ammunition to go was the .223-caliber, which is what is used in the AR-15. Then it was the 7.62 mm, which is fired in the AK-47, and the 9mm ammo, which is used in the most popular semiautomatic handguns.
Jeremy Guerrero, in charge of the guns and ammunition sales at the Bee County Pawn store, agreed with Massengill.
His shelves were emptied of the same calibers within days.
But the store is getting ammunition in some quantities now. He had received a shipment on Monday, April 29, and he still had some on the shelves. But he said the most popular calibers would be sold within days.
And prices were much higher than they had been before the rush.
Twenty rounds of Tulamo 7.62x39 ammo was selling for $18.99, almost $1 a round.
“We were low. We didn’t have anything,” Guerrero said. “We sell them pretty quick even though they’re priced so high. Now, it’s no telling when a shipment comes in.”
Massengill said his store receives a couple of shipments a week, but the volume and their ammunition supplier help out in that regard.
Also, Massengill’s store marks up its products by the same amount, 10 percent. So customers usually can buy ammunition at a better price at Americana Arms than they can get it elsewhere, even at some of the most popular gun shows in South Texas.
Like Massengill, Guerrero said his store sells out of .223-caliber and .22-caliber long rifle ammunition first.
The popular .22-caliber ammo is the hardest to find. And some national firearms dealers have reported that the one rifle hardest to locate these days is the Ruger 10-22 carbine.
Some AR-15s and AK-47s are appearing on shelves now. But they are also a rare find.
A Romanian-made AK-47 that used to sell for $500-$600 not long ago was on display in a gun case in one local store, and the price was $1,500.
Guerrero said his shop has a good selection of shotguns available now. But the so-called assault rifles sell almost as soon as they appear on the rack.
Guerrero said Bee County Pawn is an authorized Glock dealer, for instance. And they simply cannot get Glocks these days.
“It’s been months since we’ve gotten any in,” Guerrero said.
Massengill said a recent shipment of 4,000 rounds of .223-caliber and 5.56mm ammo came in one Saturday morning and the shop was sold out by noon.
He said he sold 18,000 rounds of .22-caliber ammo in three hours recently.
“More people shoot the 22,” Massengill’s wife, Tammy Casciato, said. “We have limits on the ammunition that is in most demand.”
That way, Americans Arms is able to provide the product to more of its customers.
Sports South, the largest ammunition supplier in the country, will call the shop every day and tell the owners what ammo they have in stock.
Both shops also have seen the number of so-called high capacity (30-round) magazines for AR-15s, Mini 14s and AK-47s start to increase.
But because lawmakers in Washington and other states have been calling for bans on magazines that hold more than seven or 10 rounds, those also sell quickly. And prices have risen on them as well.
“Through this shortage people have been real decent,” Casciato said. It is normal for someone to pass up a chance to buy some ammunition so another customer can have the 50 rounds needed to qualify on the range for a concealed handgun class.
Massengill said he expects the prices for ammo to stay relatively high. In 2008, after President Barack Obama was elected, ammunition prices went up substantially, and they never went back down to previous levels.
Massengill said his shop has been selling all the AR-15 lower frames they can stock. The company has its own lowers with their logo on the part.
“You can get every part you need to build your own AR for not a lot of money,” Massengill said. He recommended that those who would like to get one of the rifles take that approach.
Otherwise, shoppers who watch the store may get lucky. He said the shop gets in two or three ARs a week.
Ammunition dealers also believe that when the supply catches up some, the demand will still be high.
Gun owners who were caught in December with not a lot of ammo on hand will not want to make that mistake again. They will be stockpiling it this time.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.