Everything to Know About the U.S. Ammo Shortage for 2024

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If you want to exercise your right to bear arms, you can buy almost any type of gun you want in America. However, since 2021, hunters and other gun owners have had trouble finding ammo for their handguns and rifles.

Why is there an ammo shortage, and how much longer can it last? Keep reading to get answers, including when experts expect the bullet drought to end.

What Has Been Causing an Ammo Shortage?

Ammo shortages are not new in the U.S. We went through several between 2008 and 2016, and those shortages were due to panic buying and new laws. The current bullet shortage is due to ripple effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors discussed below:

Increase in Firearms Purchases

Gun buyers must undergo a background check when buying guns from a licensed firearms dealer. According to an FBI report, the background checks performed in 2020 and 2021 surpassed each previous year by over 10 million.

The increase in background checks implies that more people bought guns in 2020 and 2021 than in previous years. Note that this data does not cover people who got guns without undergoing a background check, such as through gifts and gun ownership transfers.

With more Americans owning guns, more people need ammunition. Even though ammo manufacturers have ramped up production to match demand, bullets are still scarce.

Remington Bankruptcy in 2018

Remington has been one of the biggest gun and ammo manufacturers in the U.S since its founding in 1918. However, in 2018 and 2020, Remington filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy proceedings led to losing investors and revenue, and the company could not keep up ammo production.

Remington’s paused production led to customers getting their ammo from other brands. Other ammo manufacturers gladly took Remington’s customers, but they struggled to cope with the sudden demand increase, contributing to the ammunition shortage. Fortunately, Vista Outdoors has acquired Remington, and the company is working on restoring and boosting ammo production in Remington facilities across the U.S.

COVID-19 Pandemic Supply Chain Issues

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, shoppers could opt for imported ammo if they couldn’t get products from their favorite American brands. However, the ongoing pandemic has disrupted international supply chains, leading to ammo imports into the U.S. dropping by 34%.

Imported ammo that does make it into the U.S. takes longer than usual, and dealers experience shipping delays between 6 to 12 months. The compromised supply chain has made it difficult to import enough ammunition to make up for domestic manufacturers’ inability to keep up with the rising ammo demand.

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Ammo Import Restrictions

Another factor contributing to the ammunition shortage is ammo import restrictions implemented by the government. Currently, the U.S. government has implemented sanctions that restrict the importation of Russian ammunition. The U.S. has also banned the importation of ammo and firearms from China, Iraq, and several other countries.

Raw Material Shortages

Copper is one of the primary materials needed to make bullets. However, due to COVID-19 and other factors, American ammo manufacturers are experiencing a copper shortage.

According to Chris Metz, Vista Outdoor CEO, the company’s ammunition production facilities have been competing with electric car companies and the U.S. Mint for copper. Vista Outdoor is the parent company of ammo brands like Remington, Federal, CCI, and Speer.

What Caused the Increase in Gun Purchases?

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Analysts use federal background checks to estimate gun purchases in the U.S. In 2020, background checks hit an all-time high of 1.2 million in a week and 39 million for the entire year. That’s a significant increase from the previous all-time high of 28 million background checks in 2019.

According to the New York Times, American gun buyers increased from 5.3% in 2019 to 6.5% in 2020 (17 million buyers). About one-fifth of these buyers were first-time purchasers, and the gun purchase trend continued until the end of 2021.

As we’ve mentioned, one of the leading causes of the current ammo shortage is increased gun purchases and ownership. So, why are so many Americans suddenly buying guns? Below are some of the top reasons:

Political Ties to Gun Purchases

After President Obama became president in 2008, many Americans thought he would tighten gun control laws and restrict gun purchases. Fearing that they would become unable to buy guns, many Americans began panic-buying and hoarding firearms.

Even though Obama never passed any significant gun control laws, firearm manufacturers still could not keep up with the spike in demand, leading to ammo shortages. According to the Washington Post, gun demand slightly dropped after President Trump was elected in 2017. The sudden drop was because President Trump and the Republican Party promised to protect Second Amendment rights.

However, during President Trump’s term, more people of color and LGBT individuals became gun owners to protect themselves against racial and gender-based violence. According to The COVID States Project, gun demand shot up again in June 2020 due to the Black Lives Matter protests.

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COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic and multiple lockdowns spurred psychological stress and paranoia. Conspiracy theorists touting the end of the world fueled uncertainty and worsened the situation. In response, more Americans bought guns to feel safer as the pandemic and lockdowns became more widespread.

Also, like other factories, gun manufacturers stopped production during the height of the pandemic. Fearing long-term scarcity, many gun enthusiasts started panic-buying and hoarding firearms and ammo.

Increase in Safety Concerns

A 2021 Gallup survey showed that 88% of Americans own a gun for personal protection or safety. Proof of this is evident in the uptick in gun purchases after gun violence or mass shooting events like Sandy Hook and the Las Vegas Strip massacre.

In 2020, several anti-racism and police violence protests occurred, leading to injuries, deaths, and damaged properties. For property and personal protection, more Americans bought guns. Firearm purchases during the protests contributed to 2020 having the highest number of background checks and gun purchases on record in the U.S.

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What Problems Has the Ammo Shortage Caused for Gun Owners?

The ammo shortage has been a blast for several firearm manufacturers. For instance, since 2020, Ammo Inc. and other gun manufacturers have seen their stock prices outperform estimates.

Also, sky-high demand means that manufacturers can count on their products to sell out quickly, leading to increased and faster revenue generation. Some manufacturers are even considering opening more manufacturing plants.

While the bullet shortage has been a blessing for firearm makers, gun owners have found the situation less enjoyable due to issues like:

Cost of Ammunition Has Spiked

When demand exceeds supply, manufacturers have the upper hand and can dictate prices. That’s why companies like Remington have been able to increase ammo prices multiple times between 2020 and 2021.

Consumers have to suffer the increased prices alongside not having access to as much ammo as they want. Even illegal bullets from unregistered dealers, such as hoarders and black-market sellers, the price of ammo is still higher than in previous years.

Rationing of Ammunition

Ammo scarcity and high prices have led to hunters and other gun owners rationing their bullets. Otherwise, they could end up with zero ammo and no way to replenish their stock. For this reason, hunters are hunting less, and people are visiting the gun range less often. Some gun owners have even chosen to save their limited ammo for emergencies or necessities.

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What Is the Hardest Ammo to Find?

The current ammunition shortage has made specific ammo harder to find than others. Some of the hardest to find and most expensive bullets include:

  • 30-30 Winchester: Popular among hunters, this caliber is in high demand and difficult to track down. Even if you can find it, the price is steep, ranging between $1 and $2.45 per round, depending on the seller.
  • .308 Winchester: Another popular choice among hunters and tactical shooters, people around the country are snatching up .308 ammo on sight. If you can find it, you should buy as much as possible, especially since it’s cheaper than 30-30 Winchester ammo.
  • .40 Smith & Wesson: The ammo type fires from 40 S&W semi-automatic pistols‎ and submachine guns‎. The bullet is hard to find in most physical stores, but you may have better luck finding it online.
  • .223 and 5.56mm NATO: The .223 Remington and 5.56mm are both useable in AR-15s. However, note that while firing a .223 round from a 5.56mm firearm is relatively safe, firing a 5.56mm round from a .223 gun isn’t. If you are among the millions of Americans who own an AR-15, stock up on these ammo types if you can before their prices become even higher.
  • 9mm: 9mm rounds have always sold out quickly because many law enforcement officers use them. If you are a civilian, you may have trouble getting your hands on this caliber, and if you do, it will probably cost about 80 cents to $1.20 per round.

Note that your location in the U.S. will significantly influence prices and your chances of getting specific ammo. However, you can hunt for good bargains by shopping online.

Will the Ammo Shortage End in 2022?

Now that you know why the ammo shortage persists, you might be wondering when it will end. Unfortunately, many ammo dealers expect the shortage and price hikes to continue into early 2024, especially if more Americans keep buying guns.

However, if COVID-19 supply chain issues reduce, dealers may start importing more ammunition to support domestically produced ammo supplies. Pending when that happens, you should avoid spraying and praying. Conserve your ammo and avoid wasting shots by investing in firearm accessories that improve aim, such as suppressors and scopes.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>