Ammo shortage impacts Mitchell's gun show, as election cycle, pandemic intensifies demand

Sam Fosness, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
·4 min read

Mar. 16—When David Brown sets up his vendor booth at the annual gun show in Mitchell each spring, he typically has seven tables of ammunition for sale.

At this year's gun show that was held over the weekend at the Davison County Fairgrounds, Brown barely had enough ammo to fill up two tables. Since the pandemic swept the country, ammo has been flying off the shelves, leading to one of the biggest shortages Brown has ever witnessed.

After the election of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, the shortage has intensified to levels that have some gun and ammo retailers worried about the survival of their businesses.

"This certainly isn't the first time we've seen ammo shortages, but it's one of the biggest I have seen in my years of coming to gun shows," said Brown, who has been trekking to the Mitchell gun show from his Minnesota home for over a decade. "I think the COVID-19 virus and going from a Republican president to a Democrat president is like the perfect storm for the ammo and gun demand."

While both gun and ammo sales have spiked throughout the pandemic with the influx of panic buying, Brown pointed to the recent switch from a Republican-led government to a Democratic one as what he believes is the biggest factor driving the ammo shortage. With a Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Brown said people are anticipating some form of gun restrictions, which in turn affects ammo sales.

"People aren't sure what laws to restrict guns may be coming, so that creates some uncertainty. If a certain type of gun is proposed to be banned, people will try to stock up before it happens," Brown said. "In the past, when Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were enforcing more gun laws and restrictions, ammo and gun sales shot up."

As the event organizer of the Dakota Territory Gun Collectors Association gun show in Mitchell, Kaycie Klimisch saw how much impact the gun and ammo shortage is having on retailers.

"I had a lot of vendors who have been coming here for 15 years cancel just because they don't have any inventory. It's not just ammo, it's guns as well," Klimisch said. "There are some retailers selling ammo that are backordered five to six months out."

Historically, the Republican party has been a strong advocate for Second Amendment rights, while Democrats have pushed for more restrictions and regulations. With the Biden administration's lengthy list of proposed gun restrictions and regulations, Klimisch said people tend to stock up on guns and ammo before any firearm laws are passed.

With the spike in national background checks that were conducted for firearm purchases in the months leading up to the transition from former President Donald Trump to Biden, it's more evidence showing it had an impact on firearm and ammo sales. In November 2020, two months before President Biden took office, there were 3.6 million firearm background checks, an increase of 1 million compared to the same time frame in 2019.

"When a Democrat president gets elected, guns and ammo sales go up, especially when you go from Republican to Democrat. It's just the way it's been for years," Klimisch said.

For Dennis Klimisch, the factors driving the ammo shortage are more complex than shifts in political power. On the manufacturing side of things, Klimisch pointed to the effects that COVID-19 has had on raw materials needed to produce ammo. In many sectors of the economy, costs of materials have drastically soared, largely due to the nationwide coronavirus restrictions that have disrupted the production cycle.

Some ammo manufacturers have been disrupted during the pandemic, especially those producing it in states with much stricter COVID-19 restrictions. Combine that with the growing demand amid a Democrat-controlled government that hopes for more gun restrictions, it creates a perfect recipe for ammo shortages.

"With COVID-19, some places aren't able to produce as much ammo as they were, which they're blaming on the virus," Klimisch said. "The sudden demand increased when people heard that something might be taken away, so they stock up and hoard it. Anytime someone in power says they are going to take some guns, a whole lot more people go buy what they can to stock up before it might happen."

Looking toward the future, Brown fears what he dubbed as "unfair constant attacks" on the Second Amendment will eventually end the right to bear arms and purchase ammo in America. If lawmakers and future elected officials are unable to ban them, he worries that they will tax and regulate ammo and firearms to a level that "makes nearly impossible" for manufacturers and retailers to sell and distribute them.

However, he believes it would be a gradual process that will take some time. As for gun shows, Brown predicted it may be the last year that gun shows are permitted to take place.

"I worry that the lawmakers against the Second Amendment will tax and regulate guns and ammo in a way that makes it almost impossible to make money on," Brown said. "It's too bad because there is a lot of evidence and reasons for Second Amendment rights."