Why Is Ammunition So Expensive?

Over the last year, ammunition prices have shot through the roof. The price of 9mm and other small caliber handgun rounds have increased by as much as 62 percent. There are plenty of theories explaining this “sudden” price escalation, from economics to politics to political economics. The Mystery of The Really Expensive Ammo is worth solving; a gun without ammo is nothing more than a very expensive blunt instrument for hand-held assault. So here’s a rundown of the most popular—if not logical or accurate—explanations for the high price of ammunition . . .

The military’s to blame

You don’t have to see the spent casings laying at the feet of U.S. soldiers in Marjah to know that the U.S. military is one of the world’s largest ammunition consumers. According to The Washington Post, American armed forces will use 1.5 billion rounds of small ammunition this year, triple the amount produced in 2001. That’s a lot of demand.

Yes, but— the U.S. military has an entirely predictable bullet burn rate, its own massive manufacturing facility and plenty of your hard-earned tax money. The ammo-challenged armed forces recently cut deals with the Brits, Israelis and good old Winchester to augment their ammunition supplies (for a premium, of course). None of these suppliers had to divert civilian ammo production or sales. So we can file the idea that overseas actions are sucking-up ammo under “another myth exploded.”

The Chinese Government’s to blame

The People’s Republic [sic] of China fields the world’s largest army, with over 2.25 million regular troops, 800k reservists and four million paramilitary soldiers. Even if you figure a thousand bullets per soldier, that’s over seven billion bullets. To say the Chinese are voracious ammo consumers would be like saying a great white shark has a bit of an overbite. Equipping the Red Army with bullets requires enormous amounts of copper, brass and lead. But again, it’s a predictable—and primary—consumption pattern.

That said, raw materials are an issue. Brass is fine; the market for the metal has more or less collapsed. Copper prices, on the other hand, have gone ballistic. Never mind the military; China is stocking up on billions of tons to build the country’s infrastructure and manufacture consumer goods (refrigerators, cars, cell phones, etc.). As the five-year chart above shows, Chinese demand has caused a huge copper price spike this year.

Lead? Same deal, only more so. In the last year, lead prices have climbed from .40 a pound to $1.20 (before falling back slightly). All of which means that China has rendered the raw materials needed to make American bullets more expensive.

Bush is to blame

In 2007, OSHA (the fine folks at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) made a well-publicized attempt to change the rules on the sale and transportation of ammunition. The regulation (which would NOT have required ratification by elected officials) would have prevented retailers like Walmart from selling both firearms and ammunition. The NRA and other pro-gun groups mobilized to head the feds off at the pass.

After being inundated with letters, emails, and petitions, OSHA decided to delay the changes. But not before the prospect triggered a huge spike in demand, as gun owners stocked up on ammo.

Obama’s to blame I

Organizations like the NRA pushed hard back in 2008, positing that the election of Obama would result in the termination of our Second Amendment rights and a gun grab that would make post-Katrina New Orleans look like child’s play. To date, that hasn’t happened. What did happen: a large segment of the public began buying up both ammo and guns in record numbers. Firearms and ammunition sales shortages shot up, even before the Senator ascended to the Chief Executive’s slot.

In 2009, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) reported 14,033,824 background checks. While that represents “only” about a 10 percent increase in gun purchases from 2008 (12,709,023 checks), figure 1000 rounds of additional ammo per additional gun. I make that 1,324,801,000 additional bullets. At least. No wonder ammunition makers are adding shifts to increase production.

Meanwhile, increased demand and lagging production means higher prices. If you wanna pin all that on Obama Derangement Syndrome, go ahead. In truth, the 44th President of the United States has done little to curtail gun ownership. If he does make moves in that direction, look for another sales surge and price spike.

Obama’s to blame II

Early in its first year, the Obama administration decided they would stop selling spent brass casings to ammunition re-manufacturers. They decided to shred them and send the raw materials to . . . China. This policy immediately changed the availability of practice ammo for 9mm handguns and AR-15 carbines. It also had a trickle-down effect on the laws of supply-and-demand for every other kind of ammo. Since garnering media attention, the bullet-brass-to-China situation has since been “resolved.” But the psychological damage was done.

The manufacturers are to blame

Pity the poor ammo manufacturers. They got caught flat-footed, what with the increased demand from the military, decreased raw materials supplies courtesy of China, and the artificial spikes to demand, driven by the anticipation of anti-gun policies from the Obama administration. They’ve largely caught up now, but there are still shortages in specific markets and calibers.

Capitalism is to blame

The law of supply and demand is a cruel mistresses. When the supply of a product or service drops below demand, manufacturers usually raise prices to soften demand, bank profits and enable supplies to catch up. When supplies are in abundance, prices drop to clear out inventory. The Eggo frozen waffle shortage (I kid you not) shows how you can’t buck the system.

Where this one really kicked in: ammunition manufacturers quickly realized that, with raw materials supplies at all-time lows, it was far more lucrative to manufacture self-defense rounds (i.e. jacketed hollow-points) than it was to make practice rounds (full-metal jacketed “roundballs” or lead wad-cutters).

Even more critical to those who reload their own practice rounds, it was far more lucrative to make the ammo than to sell the supplies (primers, gunpowder and bullets), making it difficult to impossible to reload ammo. As there’s virtually no evidence of price gouging (at least any that stands up to scrutiny) it’s hard to pin this one on ruthless capitalists. Or any other kind, for that matter.

Gun owners and first-time buyers are to blame

Ask firearm manufacturers, and they’ll tell you that the “Election dividend” for the ’08 Presidential race was a dramatic uptick in the number of people buying guns – both existing gun owners buying more weapons, and first-time buyers wanting to get guns before they were banned. (No ban actually happened, but like, Wall Street, gun owners buy on the rumor, and sell on the news). Obviously, if you own a Colt .45 and grab an AR-15 for your home defense arsenal, you have to add multiple boxes of ammo for practice and self-defense.

The media is to blame

There’s a fine line between covering the news and making the news. When it comes to any story concerning firearms, the news media consistantly blurs that line like a myopic coke addict. With every breathless story from the left covering Obama’s, Pelosi’s, and Reid’s plans to clamp down on gun shows, gun ownership and gun manufacturing, millions of Americans decided to exercise their Second Amendment rights. With every story covering the NRA’s efforts to add members to fight the ObamaNation’s plans to curtail and legislate gun ownership, those on the gun-control side of things (i.e. gun owners) became even more agitated.

Truth be told, all of these factors created a “perfect” storm of demand for ammunition, that reduced the supply, that increased the price, that led to greater production, that’s satisfying demand, which will eventually reduce the price. Or, perhaps, not. Does it really matter?

if they thought about it—and I’m not saying they will—gun owners would gladly pay a high price for availability. As they are. And those who oppose gun ownership would happily see the price rise to the point where hardly anyone could afford it. Which it won’t. And so . . . God bless America.


About Brad Kozak

Brad Kozak is an iconoclastic, curmudgeonly graphic designer/marketer/writer/musician/advertiser/conservative creative guy. In 2007, he completed a gradual transition from a conservative semi-pacifist to a proactive, armed citizen, willing to exercise his Second Amendment rights to protect his family and property. His idea of “gun control” is hitting where he aims.

24 Responses to Why Is Ammunition So Expensive?

  1. avatarDon Gammill says:

    Regardless of the reason(s), the current ammo situation has had a very real effect on the average gun owner vis-a-vis the probability of practicing and remaining proficient.

    In 2002, I regularly bought 165-grain .40 S&W FMJ re-loaded practice ammo for $6.95 per 50-round box from a reputable website. For about a dollar more or less per box, I could have selected re-loaded hard-cast lead, total copper jacket, or even jacketed hollow point rounds, available in 155-, 165-, and 185-grain bullet weights.

    Around 2003, Walmart started selling brand-new Winchester “white box” Target/Range ammo (.40 S&W 165-grain FMJ) for $15 per box of 100, so naturally, I left the re-loads behind.

    Of course, the Winchester ammo at Walmart has doubled in price over the past few years, so I went back to that aforementioned re-load website the other day just to see how bad things had gotten in the re-load world.

    Very bad, as it turns out. They now offer only one re-loaded ammo option for .40 S&W: 185-grain total copper jackets at $13.85 per box of 50. This represents zero savings over my best local retail option once you factor in shipping and the higher incidence of failures-to-feed I always experienced with 2-3% of this company’s (or anyone else’s) reloads.

    The net result: I now go to the range twice per year versus the four to six times per year I did in the past. My enjoyment of shooting hasn’t changed, but neither has my financial situation with regard to my disposable income.

    While sending a hundred rounds down range once every six months might be all that’s necessary for me to remain minimally proficient and capable of defending myself and my family, I would definitely feel much more confident were I able to afford twice as much practice.

  2. avatarDonal says:

    I gather also that those who remain well-to-do are arming themselves in fear of those who no longer have jobs.

  3. avatarBrad Kozak says:

    Just as I was about to get into reloading, the primer/lead/copper/whatever I needed shortage hit. Things seemed to have settled down a little, but it's still waaaaaay too expensive to do the 50 rounds a week plus one night a week IDPA practice I was doing. So I'm now looking at acquiring a .22 semi-auto pistol. .22 ammo is still dirt cheap, (at least compared to .45s) and will give me the reps I need for accuracy. I think I'll still shoot a magazine of .45s, just to stay in shape with the additional recoil/heft of my 1911, but the .22 should help in the financial department.

    • avatarJohn says:

      Wally World no longer offers inexpensive .22 rounds. A box of 550 that used to retail for about $9 became scarce despite purchase limitations and then, when manufacturers had begun to catch up with demand, the price is hovering around $20 for that same box. The new strategy at Wally World is to match local competition prices but the local Wally World is always “out” when other, more distant sporting goods stores have sales.

      • avatarGarras Porgratix says:

        Around here they just don’t order any. Why waste time selling something that must sell cheap b/c if you don’t then the shoppers will say that you are price gouging and not come to the store to buy other things? At my store, they simply haven’t stocked anything for like a month, maybe more. They lie and say that there is a shortage and they can’t get any. Bull****! I used to work in retail and I KNOW how this works. The manager simply didn’t put in the orders. The warehouse didn’t know we were out as the computer still showed we had some in stock which ‘didn’t sell’ for some odd reason.

  4. avatarshawn Allen says:

    The one thing people don’t seem to bring up is the reason for the second admendment, was written so are leaders would have a healthy fear of the people. I know so many people think it is unthinkable for a american to raise arms against thier government. This is you’re responsiblity that the creaters of our goverment trusted with the people. The goverment is making it to expensive for the average American to be capable with a firearm so the can keep taking are rights from us leaving the common man as nothing but a slave to the rich and powerfull. They wrote that law to give us the power to take are county back.

    • avatarGarras Porgratix says:

      You clearly have no idea how capitalism works. Its like this: people sell ammo at $9 and it flys off the shelf so they see an opportunity to get rich so they increase the price to $30 and peple STILL buy it and it runs out. What do you think they are going to do? Limit supply to 3 boxes, claim a shortage and charge a whole heap. You will STILL buy it. You may complain to the internet like this page, but you will ultimately bite the bullet and pay. As they say: There is a sucker born every minute. Guess who that sucker is?

      • avatarTrueness says:

        Obviously, the sucker is you. You’ve got your head so far up your butt in response to what was said in that post, you’re licking the back of your own eyeballs.

  5. avatarJohn says:

    This is the most complete explanation that I have seen since reading “Supply Chain Management 101: on the ammunition shortage.” written by Grant Cunningham in 2009 (http://grantcunningham.com/index.html) . We’ve had similar situations since in response to bird flu (shortage of N-95 masks) and other potential disasters. We’re starting to see it in commodities as well.

  6. Check out BlackGunAmmo. Currently carrying 5.56 and 9mm at very reasonable cost.
    The ammo I have personally fired is very accurate.

  7. avatargameseed says:

    My father was a national guard of China in the 1970s. He told me that he shot probably like 100 rounds of ammo in his LIFE. That includes 3 years of national guard service plus a few years para-military service (less than 10 rounds per year).

    I am going to a gun range (in WI) this weekend and shoot probably 100 rounds.

    You see, China is not to blame. Any gun owner in US shoots more than a Chinese soldier.

  8. avatarriver says:

    well i thank the reason all of this is happening is because the pries of ammo of cheep. then everyone decided to but it. then the it started get worse and worse. then everything got back orated and now theirs a shortage !!

    • avatarGarras Porgratix says:

      There is no real shortage. The sellers just say that to jack up the price from $9 a box of 9mm to $40. People beleive everything they see on tv. If they say there is a shortage, people beleive it. After all, like the internet, people on tv can’t say anything thats not thruth can they? Bonjour, my friend. HA HA HA HA!! Look, if you will pay $40-60 for a box, do you really think that gunshops will cut you a break when they are getting rich? Who doesn’t like to be paid more? Who does’t like to be rich?

  9. avatarSam says:

    Actually you idiot, Barack Obama is to blame for rising gun and ammunition prices. The reason it is so high is because he is trying to stop us from owning guns. Im actually doing a project on this right now. But this will not pass, because less than half of the Senate disagrees with this act, so it is a failure anyway. Im only in the 10th grade and know more than you, and yes I’m white.

  10. avatarMr Ron says:

    The fear of the public that ammo will become scarce, anti-gun nuts, manufacturers and suppliers, cost of materials, military are all factors that has driven up the price.

  11. avatarJoe says:

    Who wrote this article? Not a gun owner. NO I will NOT gladly pay high prices for ammo. I simply won’t shoot if that’s what it means. I would say majority of gun owners are pissed about the high prices and many of us including myself are boycotting the gouges. Yah I said gouges! Have you seen cheaper than dirt??? Tell me how that’s not price gouging. Cheaper than no one else is their new motto and they lost millions of customers. It’s simple. Quit buying the shit . Although its hard to make a difference when our own local shops are selling a good portion of their shipments on gun broker. Raking in the profit. Trading our ammo over seas to countries who literally have no ammo. I’ll tell you the exact reason there is high prices . I Guarantee your support on this one…. GREED

  12. avatarRon says:

    I believe that Wayne Lapierre, president of the NRA caused the problem by spouting off about how Obama and company are lusting to take away our guns. Allot of gun owners bought into his ranting and just like the gasoline “shortage” in the ’70s (no real shortage, just people panicing), it became a self fulfilling prophacy. That may have been Mr. Lapierre’s plan all along as he is a lobbyist for the ammo & gun makers. I really believe he is being well compensated for this work. It doesn’t take much to start a stampede and Mr. Lapierre knows his herd.

    • avatarcharlie says:

      Wayne Lapierre, president of the NRA caused the problem
      i think the federal guberment, congress, and state legistlatures are more to blame than Lapierre.

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  15. avatarCarol Anderson says:

    We used to shoot. 22 for fun all the time. Now in order to buy Walmart Ammo for 550 for $25 you have to be there at 1am when it comes off the truck and there is still a line.
    We bought some high powered pellet guns but I just paid $900 for a decent powerful rifle. Can!t win. Super quality pellets cost 20 cents a piece.

  16. avatarRushing says:

    Where I live the workers at Wak Mart call all their friends when ammo comes in. They run buy all of it within 30 minutes.

  17. avatarTim says:

    Please update and run another more current and informed version. You seem to be a very balanced reporter, and thank you for that, however I believe new information, much more enlightening information, has come to light and could reveal more serious political implications.

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