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Local gun owners scramble to buy ammo

BEMIDJI – In the pre-dawn hours outside Gander Mountain, a scene reminiscent of a movie opening or concert tickets going on sale plays out each Wednesday, just before the arrival of pallets of ammunition.

Some get there as early as 5 a.m., but all are in line at 7 a.m., when numbers are handed out to the waiting.

First come, first serve. Then, it’s another two hours before the ammo is sold. And employees like Thor Sherva, a 21-year-old employee who has worked at the store for the last two years, don’t bother putting it on the shelves.

“It it’s a bullet, if it shoots, it’s out the door,” he said.

A walk down the aisles of the store shows gun owners aren’t concerned with buying shotgun shells, though. Those shelves, containing 12- and 20-gauge ammunition for weapons used primarily for hunting, are full. But when it comes to .22-caliber and 9 mm ammunition, the weekly shipments to the store are gone within minutes. Specifically, 5,000 rounds of .22-caliber and a few thousand rounds of 9 mm bullets were paid for and bagged in less than five minutes on Wednesday, Sherva said.

At the store in Bemidji, one of 119 stores the chain operates in 23 states, it’s easy to pinpoint the moment the massive ammo buy began.

“Obama’s speech on the Newtown shooting was huge,” Sherva said. “We sold out of ammo that night.”

Tom Corson, a 63-year-old veterinarian shopping Thursday at Gander Mountain, was not one of those who fled to the store, and other ammunition suppliers, the night of Obama’s speech on the Sandy Hook shooting. But he recognized the effects of the president’s address.

“He’s the best salesman for guns and ammo there’s ever been,” Corson said of the President.

The buying has not abated, according to Sherva, and the bullets go quickly and early. Corson said the continued scramble for ammunition might be a problem that compounds upon itself – empty shelves might lead some to believe there’s a shortage, prompting the stocking up that takes place each Wednesday, Corson said. But the public’s appetite for ammunition is affecting more than the companies who make the product. Law enforcement agencies are also feeling the pinch of decreased supplies and increased costs.

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp, while not yet having to restrict the amount of training his deputies can participate in, said shooting sessions might eventually have to decrease.

“Public demand is out of control right now,” Hodapp said. “It’s going to affect us if the price keeps going up. If the situation doesn’t change, we’ll have to make changes by the end of the year.”

A certain amount of ammunition – duty ammo – is set aside for officers’ weapons, and the rest is used for training, keeping the aim of police sharp. But, like law enforcement agencies around the country, Hodapp has been dealing with shortages of ammunition long before Aurora, prior to Sandy Hook and nearly a decade before Obama’s speech that sent gun owners scrambling for bullets and AR-15s.

“We’ve been dealing with this, really, since the Iraq War started,” he said. “We try to stay a year ahead, and luckily we’ve got a stockpile. But it’s all hard to come by right now.”

Justin Glawe
Reporting on crime, courts and Beltrami county government. Follow me on Twitter @JustinGlawe.
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