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Friday, August 14, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Police face ammo shortage

A .40-caliber shell casing flies from a Spokane Police Department resource officer's pistol at the Spokane Police Academy firing range during sidearm qualification Thursday. 
 (Jed Conklin / The Spokesman-Review)
A .40-caliber shell casing flies from a Spokane Police Department resource officer's pistol at the Spokane Police Academy firing range during sidearm qualification Thursday. (Jed Conklin / The Spokesman-Review)

Rising metal prices and more military activity are causing ammunition shortages nationwide, hitting law enforcement budgets and operations.

Though area police have so far escaped the worst disruptions seen in other parts of the country, they are keeping extra ammunition on hand and at times substituting less desirable brands.

“We’ve had to – pardon the pun – bite the bullet,” said Rick Ohnsman, public information officer for the Idaho State Police.

Not long ago the agency could order ammunition six to eight weeks out. Now it takes six to eight months to get orders, Ohnsman said.

In Coeur d’Alene, police Lt. Dennis Brodin said orders now take a month or more. “Before you’d just call and they’d almost have it ready for you,” he said.

And then there’s the cost. Copper and brass prices have made ammunition much more expensive.

“In some cases prices have almost doubled,” he said.

Police don’t use much ammunition in the line of duty, but they need it for training.

Ohnsman said the Idaho State Police uses 1.2 million rounds a year.

The most common ammunition types used by law enforcement are .40-caliber for handguns and .223 for rifles.

The U.S. military also uses .223-caliber ammunition for its M-16 and M-4 rifles – lots of it.

“They’re going through an unprecedented amount,” said Larry Schierman, the owner of local ammunition wholesaler Gunarama.

Five years ago Lake City Arsenal – the nation’s primary military ammunition supplier – sold 350 million rounds to the military each year. For the year of March 2005 to March 2006 that figure rose to 1.3 billion rounds, Schierman said. And the U.S. Army wants 300 million more rounds.

“Most of the factories didn’t anticipate those kinds of increases,” he said.

Neither did Schierman, who has been in the business for 34 years.

“I’ve never seen this before,” he said.

Manufacturers used to raise prices once a year; now they’re now increasing them four or more times a year.

In the past two years the wholesale price of .223-caliber ammunition has risen from $2 a box to $5 a box.

Gunarama supplies many local law enforcement agencies, including the Spokane Police Department, Medical Lake police, and Rathdrum. Departments as far away as Kent, Wash., and Hillsborough, Ore., are now ordering from Gunarama because wholesalers near them have a backlog of orders.

It’s taking more time for Schierman to fill orders, too. An order the Spokane Police Department placed in March has yet to be completely filled, he said.

“We’ve had to plan better,” said Officer Mark Howard, Spokane police’s assistant range master.

So far the department has been able to keep its training operations intact.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has been protected by its participation in Washington state’s buying contract, said Sgt. Dave Reagan. That arrangement will hold prices steady through 2008.

The county’s SWAT operation keeps a year’s worth of ammunition in stock, Reagan said.

Said Washington State Patrol Logistics Manager Christine Fox: “We’re juggling and working with the vendors to keep our officers equipped.” All are keeping a close eye on the situation, however, and keeping their supply rooms full.

“We’re stocking up more than before,” Ohnsman said.

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