Dave Scott

Law enforcement officials and gun store owners are seeing shortages and price hikes for ammunition after a large spurt in sales following the Newtown, Conn., shootings.

“There is quite a lot of buying going on. I think it is just the fear of a lack of availability, a fear of the present political outlook on firearms,” said Fred Phillips, part-owner of Triad Gun L.L.C in Coventry Township.

Widely used varieties like .22-caliber bullets are the most scarce, and even the kinds law enforcement use are getting more expensive and harder to find.

William Holland, spokesman for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said ammunition is on back order and costs almost 7 percent more than last year.

Much of the ammunition is used in training, and in some cases deputies are relying on Simunition, an alternative training ammunition.

Holland noted that deputies in the field are fully supplied.

Capt. Daniel Zampelli of the Akron Police Department also assured there is not a shortage of bullets for officers on the streets, but the department has faced shortages of training rounds since the war in Afghanistan began in 2003.

Sometimes ammunition would not be delivered for more than a year after it was ordered.

“For training and recertification, we are using a lower-end, lower-cost ammunition,” Zampelli said.

Akron also is placing larger orders. In 2011, the department bought 420 cases of the practice ammunition, almost three times what is needed for a year. By buying in bigger lots, they saw the price go down from $162 a case to $81 a case.

Zampelli said ammunition that officers will carry on the street must be fresh and is purchased new each year.

Walmart, the nation’s largest gun and ammunition retailer, last week began limiting ammunition sales to three boxes per customer per day until further notice.

“We are trying to take care of as many customers as possible,” a Walmart spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, private gun owners who hear calls for greater limits on gun and ammunition sales are stocking up.

“All I can figure out is people got scared and are buying stuff up and just, you know, stockpiling it away, hoarding it,” said Thomas Dunigan, owner of Gun Emporium in Coventry Township. “I’ve got eight boxes of .22s left down here and that’s it. And I can’t get any more.”

He said he only got half of his most recent order, and wholesalers offer little hope.

“They don’t have any idea when they are going to see more in the distributorships,” he said. “I think people are just afraid of what the government’s going to do.”

Dunigan and Phillips said calls for gun and ammunition regulation are inspiring consumers to buy it now.

“It’s buy, buy, buy and hoard, hoard hoard,” Phillips said.

He was critical of unclear news reports, noting that some people take proposed restrictions as actual mandates.

“I think we are always going to have firearms available, and ammo’s going to be available,” Phillips said, “but in times like this where you think something is going to happen politically, it fuels this.”

He said he appreciates the public’s heartbreak in learning of the school shooting but insists, “You can’t legislate behind tragedy.”

He also resents characterizations that associate gun owners with notorious shootings.

“What the media needs to do is go to more gun clubs and find out it is not the militia,” Phillips said.

So now the shelf where Dunigan stores bullets in his small store on Portage Lakes Drive is showing large gaps. He got only a half order of .38-caliber bullets last week.

He and Phillips have seen runs on guns before and they are seeing it again now, but a run on ammunition is a new experience.

Semi-automatic guns, called assault weapons by some, also are in high demand.

Dunigan said he tried to buy an AK-47 from a wholesaler at a normal price of $500 to $600.

“Four days after those kids [at Newtown] were shot, they doubled my price to $1,100,” he said.

Dunigan declined to buy it.

Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or davescott@thebeaconjournal.com.