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Gun sales shot up in 2020, and ammo shortages followed. See how Idaho compared to U.S.

Business & Money

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Stacey Nagy, national sales manager for Primary Weapons Systems in Boise, talks about the company’s semi automatic rifle and the difference between sporting rifles and machine guns. | BY KYLE GREEN

MERIDIAN (Idaho Statesman) – Gun sales throughout the United States surged 40% in 2020, a slightly larger increase than Idaho saw, and it has left ammunition manufacturers scrambling to meet the needs of firearms owners.

“It’s just supply and demand,” Dave Freshwater, president of Idaho Arms and Ammo in Meridian, told the Statesman in a phone interview. “Demand is about tenfold over normal and everything in the firearms industry is really scarce: guns, ammo, parts, accessories. Everything has been difficult to come by.”

The coronavirus pandemic. Protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the deaths of other minorities at the hands of law enforcement. Civil unrest. The presidential election. They all contributed to more people arming themselves, Fishwater said.

“We saw a lot of new gun owners last year, especially when that ‘defund the police’ movement was moving around and they had riots in cities,” he said. “People got pretty nervous.”

Gun sales rose to 39.7 million in 2020, up from 28.4 million in 2019, according to sales figures reported to the FBI by states under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

RELATED | Guns and ammo getting harder to find as demand continues to grow

In Idaho, firearms sales increased 34% in 2020, with 281,284 guns sold, compared to 209,275 sold in 2019.

The start of 2021 showed the gun-buying trend strengthening. U.S. sales in January — the same month that supporters of then-President Trump, some of them armed, stormed the U.S. Capitol — hit 4,137,480, making it the biggest gun-sales month since records started being kept in 1998.

With the increase in gun sales, ammunition has been in short supply for several months, according to officials. Nearly every caliber of weapon has been affected.

CCI, an ammunition manufacturer in Lewiston once known as Cascade Cartridge Inc., has hired dozens of new workers and is advertising for assemblers and electricians. And still the company, part of Vista Outdoor — which owns Remington, Federal, Speer, Camelbak, Tasco and Bushnell — said it can’t keep up.

Angry people have falsely accused Vista Outdoor of stockpiling rounds in “secret” warehouses or not making ammunition at all.

“I’m tired of all the hate mail,” Jason Vanderbrink, Vista Outdoor’s president of ammunition, said in a YouTube video. “I’m tired of people showing up at our factories. I’m tired of reading the misinformation on the internet right now of us not trying to service the demand we’re experiencing.”

The nation has added 7 million new firearms owners since last March, Vanderbrink said. Using a conservative estimate of two boxes of ammunition for each, that adds up to 700 million rounds that his company’s three factories have to help produce, he said.

“That’s impossible to do in nine months,” Vanderbrink said.

In 2019, Idaho Guns & Outdoors in Boise sold four or five guns a day, manager Kyle Phillips said by phone. Last year, “we were selling 50 to 100 guns a day,” Phillips said — handguns, rifles and shotguns.

He estimated that 30% of the buyers were new gun owners.

Phillips said the average customer buys about three boxes of ammunition per year. “Now that same person is going to every gun shop four or five times a week looking for ammunition,” he said. “We do a pretty good job of getting a lot of stuff other people can’t, but it’s not always easy.”

Suppliers are working to fill orders as fast as they can, but even that is just a drop in the bucket for the demand, Phillips said.

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