As much as I am loathe to throw around mindless jargon such as “the new normal” and “quarrantold,” the reality is that this year has…unusual. The situation has caught a lot of younger and less experienced gun owners off guard — let alone the completely inexperienced first-timers — and some advice on gun availability, ammo shortages, and how to navigate all of that seemed a good idea.
Let’s start at the beginning. Not a single firearm retailer or experienced gun owner had any idea what 2020 would have in store for us. I probably go a little overboard buying some gun-related items, but who among us in the gun culture hasn’t gone overboard a time or two?
I have plenty of guns, FMJ and defensive ammo in calibers that I have guns for. In the calibers for guns I do not own — in the event things go crazy — I have enough to help some of my friends with a trade/swap and plenty of magazines and other gun stuff that’s useful 365 days a year.
Most of my firearms are chambered in 9mm and as a result, I keep a 12-16 month supply of parabellum on hand at any given time. Why? Because I’ve seen this happen before with elections, mass shootings, and other moments of world insanity. I am NOT willing to compromise my ability to go to the range in order to make my high yield savings account look a little better.
In fact, I did the math. It cost me less than $3000 to have a serviceable stack of 9mm, defensive ammo, mags, rifle ammo, etc. for a “general SHTF” loadout. My anti-gun friends think my stash of 10,000 rounds of 9mm makes me insane. Naturally, they were some of the first to ask me for some ammunition when they weren’t able to find any. You don’t get to call me a crazy ammosexual when times are normal and ask me to subsidize your unprepared nature when times get crazy.
We’ve seen crazy before, and I’m not talking political shifts or mass shooting-related knee-jerk gun buying.
Nearly 20 years ago, hours after the planes hit the towers on 9/11, people were streaming into gun stores buying anything they could find because we were under attack from an enemy that wasn’t visible, wasn’t understood, much less well known. What was known was that a lot of people had “some ammo” at home and that didn’t seem like enough given the circumstances.
It’s almost as if 2020 is the year of history repeating itself. What will the rest of 2020 look like? We’re halfway through it, and it’s not looking like anything is getting better any time soon.
Demand is still outstripping supply on many different fronts on firearms and ammunition. Vendors have flat out told dealers that there’s nothing to ship and they should expect shelves for a while. Larger dealers get filled first, smaller dealers get the short end of the stick since they are, well, smaller accounts.
We’re seeing $500-650/thousand on 9mm FMJ 115gr online among the dealers that have anything left. Even Palmetto State Armory is picked clean on 9mm as of this writing, save for some defensive ammo at about $40 for a 20-round box.
Some firearms that aren’t considered “mainstream” — CZ’s, Berettas, Browning Buckmarks, double-barrel shotguns, etc. are available — as are bolt action rifles in 7mm Mag, .243 Winchester, and 6.5 CM. So is the ammunition that supports them.
What does this mean for the new gun owner who’s headed down to the store to purchase a GLOCK 17, Mossberg 500, and or a Smith & Wesson M&P AR-15? It means they are coming home empty-handed.
Post Sandy Hook, it took approximately two years for the industry to get things back on track with items back on the shelves. And that was without the threat of a presidential candidate taxing semi-automatic firearms and any magazine that holds 10+ cartridges.
Everyone is dealing with the state of the world differently now. In an effort to remain objective, I’m reserving my personal opinions and I’m going to report on some things we’re seeing. With quarantines being rescinded in many places and the nation slowly opening back up, I got a chance to do something I had not done in quite a long time. I paid a visit to a local gun show.
There was a line out the door since the promoters were limiting how many people could go into the building at any given time, trying to keep the room less crowded than normal. There was a lot of hand sanitizer dispensers and face masks available for attendees. I think I saw someone discreetly trying to take people’s temperatures on the way in with an infrared thermometer.
As I made my way in, I checked in with some friends who are also in the industry and selling guns and I took some notes on how they’re handling things as I made my way around the room. My first stop was near the entrance. My friend Terry is a dealer who specializes in police trade-ins and buying and selling used guns. With a great spot near the entrance of the hall, he normally does a LOT of wheeling and dealing.
He has a home FFL and operates out of his garage and works a lot of gun shows since city zoning will not let him do walk-up business in his house.
Terry was not happy. He had sold a mountain of his stuff right as the pandemic began in March and April and has not been able to re-stock since. His three tables at the gun show had a smattering of pistols and shotguns left. Terry told me that, with no inventory, it wouldn’t be worth it for him to spend nearly $300 on tables to do a gun show with nothing to sell.
What he had left were oddball pistols and some ugly, beat-up shotguns. Still, I was confident that he would sell all of them at the show judging by the frenzied pace of the customers at the show.
My next stop was my old buddy Phil. He has a business on the side selling ammo, MRE’s and survival gear on the weekends at gun shows. I immediately noticed he was light on inventory. His 9mm was scarce and priced at $550/thousand for a brand I had never heard of before. I asked him how he was handing the present environment and he said . . .
- 9mm FMJ is selling for more than .45 ACP FMJ. f he can get $550/thousand on Gunbroker he should be getting $550/thousand at the show.
- He’s buying brands that he’s usually doesn’t because that’s all he can get from vendors. In other words, he’s not getting what he wants, he’s getting what’s left.
- Everything is being sold faster than it can come in/get manufactured.
Phil sells at least a pallet or two of pistol and rifle ammo at every gun show, so this kind of disruption to his supply lines make things tough for him.
Imagine if you owned a gas station and you couldn’t buy gas, soda or Slim Jims to re-stock. Not a pretty picture. That’s the world we’re living in until things calm down, whenever that may be.
As I told him I’d catch him later, he gave me a nod as he wrote up his last case of Winchester Super X 1 oz 12 gauge deer slugs for $2.50 a shell.
I strolled around the show and, as you’d expect, inventories were a lot lighter than normal. I didn’t see the normal smorgasbord of black rifles, black pistols, and other neat stuff. I saw lots of junk being hawked at the highest possible price to customers who didn’t know any better…or didn’t seem to care.
My old boss at the pawnshop where I worked many years ago had a very interesting sales technique – he called it SWAT-ing a customer. SWAT, meaning Sell What’s Available Today. And boy howdy, did it work.
It didn’t matter what it was or how unsuitable it was to a customer. It only mattered that it was better that they had it in their hands or on their nightstand rather than sitting in inventory. I never really understood why someone would buy something that obviously didn’t fit or was of dubious quality, but I’ve always been picky about the items I own and stock as a function of experience.
What I saw at the gun show was a lot of SWAT-ing people. A good case can be made that these are the tactics of a brilliant business mind. A good case can also be made that these are the tactics of an ethically questionable FFL.
After getting some beef jerky — which seemed like the only gun show item that hadn’t decreased in availability and increased in price — I found my friend Rod. Rod works for a large law enforcement distributor and sells a ton of used police trade-in guns. His company has the law enforcement market cornered and does a ton of blue label GLOCK, LE S&W, LE SIGs, LE HK firearms and the like.
His three tables normally look like a smorgasbord of police trade-in pistols and rifles, lot of GLOCK .40 S&W G22’s and G23’s, Bushmaster Patrolmans, 20″ Colt Sporters made during the AWB that are seeing the light of day for the first time in decades, and a bunch of new GLOCK and SIG pistols.
What has 2020 done to him? He had ZERO commercial GLOCKs in stock. ZERO police trade-in guns in stock. He’s got a few new Berettas, some new SIG P365’s that just came in, a few J-frame revolvers and a mishmash of KelTec rifles, shotguns and consignment guns.
I chatted with him for a moment during a lull in the action. He had sold through about 75% of his 1000+ gun inventory of commercial GLOCK, SIG and HK pistols as the pandemic began. What was left going into the George Floyd rioting flew out the door as Minneapolis burned and he’s now sitting on nothing.
I asked him what kind of pricing he was getting, knowing full well that GLOCK 19X’s were selling for as much as $1500 on Gunbroker, GLOCK 19’s were going for $1000 and things have been pretty nuts.
Rod me that they had 19X’s tagged at $675 and GLOCK 19’s at $549. They were the first things to sell out and they have not had any re-stock. I asked him what he thought about dealers raising prices and he stated matter of factly that his customers would shoot him if he raised prices like that. He said taking advantage of people in a crisis was immoral and dishonest.
He began to get busy again and I got ready to exit the show.
On my way out, I passed a dealer with a lot of people at his table. It was lined with a ton of inventory, new and used, and I glanced down at some of the tags. GLOCK 19’s were $850, G17’s, and G43X’s were $760 and most of the AR-15’s were MSRP plus about $100.
I heard the following exchange in passing:
Customer: Hey, someone told me you were selling GLOCK 19’s for $850. Is that right?
Dealer: That’s right.
Customer: How do you sleep at night you asshole? I’m going to call GLOCK and report you.
Dealer: For what?
Customer: PRICE GOUGING during a time of crisis, in direct violation of your contract with GLOCK. You know these guns should be $549 and you’re just taking advantage of people.
Dealer: They don’t have to buy them.
Customer: Do you really expect people to buy a gun that they can get online for $549 for $850?
Dealer: It’s a free country. Been selling them all morning at that price.
Other Customer: Hey, is this GLOCK 19 Gen 5 really $850?
Dealer: Yes, and it’s my last one.
Other Customer: I’ll take it.
I did not expect a GLOCK 19s to sell for $850, nor would I have expected multiples to sell at that price and then sell out of them at that price. Granted, I didn’t expect a massive global contagion or a police officer with the trust of the public to murder someone in their custody on camera…but here we are. Things are certifiably crazy in the gun business right now and there are no signs of it abating any time soon.
The upcoming election is putting some fear in the minds of gun owners that a Biden win could result in an actual shift in gun politics. That’s funny, since the NRA table at the show wasn’t getting much traction at all. People wanted their guns and ammo, not NRA memberships.
As I left the gun show with my bag of beef jerky and a notepad, I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears and I struggle to believe it: this is the new normal.
There are no guns, no ammo, and no clue what’s happening next. Retailers that have not raised prices are sold out of everything that’s popular. Retailers that have doubled or tripled prices are also sold out.
How do we navigate this?
As far as guns and ammo, I have no problem waiting things out. If you need something sooner than later, calling around (if anyone picks up the phone) or looking online can be useful, although oftentimes the large internet gun dealers drop-ship and that can take up to 14 business days to get orders fulfilled.
There’s a ton of stuff on Gunbroker and retailers that have stock have jacked up their prices if you are willing to pay for it.
What I’m hearing from my customers is that they have found success in waitlisting, email or text when in stock at larger retailers like Cabelas, Bass Pro, etc. on ammo and other hard-to-find items. They snap up a case or two when they come available.
Keeping the powder dry and waiting things out is probably going to be the best plan of action, assuming you’re stocked well enough in the mean time. Be strategic with your shopping and purchase smart, not in a panic. I wouldn’t spend the kind of money that others are spending on guns and ammo right now, but that’s because I have plenty of both. All of the people out there looking for their first gun are dealing with a different reality.
During times like these, I think back to a phrase I saw on a receipt after a dinner out. It said “There are no spare customers” and it was attributed to Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the Houston Rockets and hundreds of restaurants across the country. The gist of it is that as business owners, we are supposed to take care of everyone who walks in the door as best we can because if we don’t, they’ll go elsewhere.
What I’m struggling with is, how do we take care of everyone when everything is out of stock?
Honesty is traditionally the best policy. I’ve been telling everyone we’re out, we have no idea when we’re going to get stuff in and to wait things out. Most folks are really understanding and are waiting. Others are driving to every gun store in a 60-mile radius looking for 9mm defensive ammo at every pawn shop, gun store, and sporting goods retailer. Desperate times beget desperate measures.
This is the new normal, and it’s not changing any time soon.
As perverse as it sounds, as the unrest in Seattle, Portland, Austin, etc. increases in intensity and frequency, the more the rest of the country fears that their hometown is next, and the more guns and ammo people are looking to buy.
I doubt the situation will get better before it gets worse. I hope I’m wrong. As mentioned before, the most recent data point for anything resembling this kind of demand was post-Sandy Hook in 2013 and 2014 where it took about two years for the market to stabilize.
Keep your eyes open for stuff you need online and in stores. Snap it up if you need it and it’s within your price tolerance. My hunch is that it will be about two years before things normalize and get back into the rhythm that we are used to.