I don’t know of a good summary of the small arms ammunition shortage that has accompanied most of Obama’s presidency, but in my own experience ammunition became hard to find shortly after President Obama took office. Things started to get back to normal in the run up to the 2012 election, and then got really bad again after the Sandy Hook shooting in December of 2012.
A January 13, 2013 comment by an irate customer (James) at online ammunition retailer Lucky Gunner captures how high prices went as well as the reason we had something so rare as a shortage in our capitalist economy:
Lucky Gunner customers like myself will remember this when the dust settles, and things are back in stock… 1.05 for.223?
The comment was left on the page for PMC Bronze .223 practice ammunition, which Lucky Gunner is now selling for 38 cents a round. Per the comment, back in January 2013 this same ammunition was selling for $1.05 a round. But even at this price, Lucky Gunner couldn’t keep the ammunition on the shelf. Another customer (Elizabeth) replied the same day:
Just don’t buy it James. In the last hour, they’ve sold 100 units @ $1.05/rnd. All of you people complaining about the price should just go camp out at Walmart where the empty shelves still show $7.86 for 20. At least it’s available here at LG.
Elizabeth followed up less than an hour later:
136 units sold in the last 45 minutes and now they’re sold out again. Supply and demand says their price is TOO LOW! Lot’s of people cheer for capitalism over communism, but get shocked when they see it up close and personal. Why don’t all of you quit buying gas, milk, and bread? That way I wouldn’t have to pay as much for those items.
As Elizabeth pointed out, at the same time stores like Walmart had empty shelves with theoretically much lower prices. As soon as supply would come in it would be immediately sold. You had to either be very lucky or know someone at the gun counter to be able to buy ammunition for the stated price.
I haven’t found a formal statement on this by any of the brick and mortar retailers, but there was a very good reason for them to be hesitant to raise prices enough to let the market clear. The shortage was associated with a perceived push by the Obama administration to go after gun owners. Shooters have long memories and are very passionate about anything they feel is an attack on their constitutional rights. Being seen as profiting from Obama going after gun owners would generate a huge amount of enduring ill will. Ironically had the brick and mortar retailers immediately raised prices enough to let the market clear they could have greatly shortened the panic by soaking up the available reserves of the people doing the most hoarding. Pretty much all shooters started hoarding to some degree starting around early 2009, but some were buying up thousands of rounds while others bought an extra box or two here and there. Raising prices enough to keep ammunition on the shelf would have also removed the psychological impact of shooters seeing empty shelves.
But again, I don’t think the retailers were wrong. Any brick and mortar retailer which did this would have risked being seen as profiting from Obama going after guns. Online retailers that specialized in ammunition had more freedom to adjust prices, but even here they had to be careful to avoid any perception that they were profiting from the pain of their customers.
After it became clear that Sandy Hook wasn’t going to result in new laws on guns or ammunition, ammunition slowly started becoming more available. I think it was in the fall of 2014 that one of our local sporting goods stores had a big stack of 100 round Winchester White Box (WWB, cheap and cheerful practice ammo) in .40 and .45. I don’t recall the price of the .40 but the .45 was selling for $35 a box so I picked a few up. When I came back the next day there was still a big stack there, so while this was a special sale it wasn’t instantly sold out. Things looked to be settling down.
Then in February of this year the ATF suddenly banned M855 “green tip”
.223 5.56mm ammunition. For a while ammunition was harder to find again, but fairly quickly the ATF backed down. Since then ammunition has once again been settling down, and I noticed the other day a local Walmart had 200 round boxes of WWB .45 ammunition for $73. This is 36.5 cents per round, and it isn’t a special sale. They also have 100 round WWB in 9mm for $25.
One thing that makes this situation interesting is that we have had shortages of ammunition under Obama for over six years now. I think many shooters don’t feel that prices have come back to pre Obama levels because we don’t generally think about inflation. Based on the CPI Inflation Calculator, my local Walmart’s price of 36.5 cents per round of .45 in 2015 is the equivalent to 33 cents per round in 2008. This is pretty much in the range of what participants in this thread said was a fair price for .45 in November of 2008. Some in the 2008 thread did report buying ammunition cheaper, especially when buying in bulk online:
Ammo To Go also has several flavors of 45 hardball at around 300 bucks a thousand.
So yeah, 300 bucks a thousand sounds like the going rate these days.
I checked Ammo To Go, and today they are selling 1,000 rounds of Magtech .45 for $319 ($287.81 in 2008 dollars).
I won’t go through every caliber, but I will note that for some reason .22 LR ammunition still is hard to find locally and expensive online*. I’m sure many of my readers have records on the prices they paid in the run-up to Obama taking office. It would be interesting to see what these past prices look like when compared to similar types of ammunition sold at similar stores today, adjusted for inflation. There will no doubt be differences when looking at not just specific calibers but also specific types of rounds. But overall ammunition strikes me now as not only plentiful but reasonably priced. This doesn’t mean it won’t possibly get cheaper, but if you find yourself running low it might not be a bad idea to pick up a few boxes in the run up to the 2016 election. Likewise if you have been avoiding the range out of fear that you won’t be able to buy ammunition, you may want to pick some up and go have some fun at the range.
*Strangely bricks of .22 ammunition were still available when I first noticed the shortage in April of 2009. I picked up a few bricks at the time, but I’m still shooting through some .22 ammunition I bought over 20 years ago so I haven’t touched it yet. I suspect the reason .22 hasn’t yet recovered is it is seen by many preppers, including those who don’t own a gun, as an alternative SHTF barter currency.