Walking into Madison Armory in 2021 is a different experience than it was at the beginning of 2020. Back then, everything was filled: walls with firearms, glass cases with pistols and shelves with ammunition. Now, gun supply waxes and wanes, and the store thinly spreads what little ammo it has left at the front of its shelves.
“I’m constantly looking for (ammo), mostly because it’s so scarce right now,” said Luke Merritt, a senior studying biomedical science. “I go to a store that sells ammo at least once a month or so, but one of the biggest things I do is follow stores on Facebook. They normally post their ammo shipments, and I just run down there and try to get to it before everyone else wipes it down.”
The current ammo shortage began at the start of COVID-19.
“People started freaking out as they were talking about lockdowns,” said Rob Woodall, manager at Madison Armory and BYU-Idaho alumnus. “We were hearing from people coming in and buying guns for the first time, ‘Man, this could get crazy; I can’t get toilet paper right now. … What (extents) might certain people go to in order to get what they need?'”
There was already a large gun-owning population in Rexburg before 2020. When a lockdown was first proposed and everyone got protective over toilet paper, students who may have never wanted to own a gun before started worrying about their safety and thinking about getting one.
“(We currently see) probably two to four new gun owners every day that have never had a gun before that want to get something,” Woodall said. “There were days that we would have 15-20 people buy guns. They’ve never owned a gun before, they’re here for school … initially they’re from California, Oregon, New York, didn’t grow up with guns in the home. But they’re like, ‘Hey, I want to get something, I want to train with it, I want to learn how to use it.'”
By October 2020, 17 million guns had been sold nationwide.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation conducted a survey in August 2020.
According to its website, “NSSF surveyed firearm retailers which reported that 40 percent of sales were conducted to purchasers who have never previously owned a firearm.”
Last year saw around 8.5 million new gun owners. With a massive spike in gun ownership came a massive spike in ammo purchases.
“Just because you’ve added so many new gun owners, demand has definitely gone up,” Woodall said. “Production has also gone up, but it just can’t keep up with it.”
Ammunition shortages have happened before. The most notable have been in election years.
“So you have a big shortage in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president,” Woodall said. “And then you had another decent one in 2012 after the Sandy Hook Shooting and they started talking about how they wanted to do more gun control, especially because at the time Barack Obama was president, and a lot of people worried quite a bit at that point. Those were probably the two biggest shortages up until now.”
Woodall also mentioned a shortage in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was running for office and had very strict gun laws planned.
According to WUSA9, “Pandemic lockdowns, social unrest, a fraught presidential election and an insurrection all appear to have caused spikes in gun buying habits compared to years past.”
Ammunition has gotten a little less scarce since the last big spike but hasn’t gotten anywhere close to what it used to be. Most of the more commonly used calibers are usually out of stock, but you can still find a little bit of ammo on the shelves at Madison Armory and other stores in the Rexburg area.
“It’s the same stuff, it’s just been going on for a year and a half,” Woodall said when comparing the beginning of the shortage to its current state. “I don’t feel like it’s too different from a year and a half ago. It’s just that there’s more people looking for it now.”
Everything considered, this is the worst ammo shortage Rexburg, Idaho, and all of the United States has ever seen. Those searching for ammo can only hope that it will improve over a little more time, though rumor has it that it will likely take at least another year for things to return to normal.