If you’re looking to buy a gun or ammunition, be ready to wait and to pay higher prices.
The 77-year-old Ahlman’s Guns in Morristown — the largest gun shop in the state — still has a good inventory of used long guns and some other firearms, but it finds itself in the rare position of having little in the way of handguns, ammo and some other popular firearms.
“By Saturday we have no guns left,” Mike Ahlman said. “We have one guy just on the phone all day searching for guns and ammo.”
The shortages are likely to affect hunters next summer and fall. And high school trap shooting clubs, which have grown in popularity, may find themselves with limited shotgun shells available as their seasons start this spring.
Gun sales have soared in recent years and demand has ramped up even more in the past year, fueled by political divisiveness, riots in Minneapolis and elsewhere, COVID-19, the storming of the U.S. Capitol, and Democrats taking control of the presidency and Congress.
“The riots hit home to a lot of people. We had business owners up there that came down to buy shotguns because they didn’t have permits for a handgun,” Ahlman said.
Brian Kane, who used to own a Le Sueur gun shop and now teaches permit-to-carry classes and helps people buy online, said people are afraid.
“People who have never owned guns are buying them. I think it’s the fear factor — they don’t feel safe anymore. People are really unsure of the future.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that 8.4 million people who never owned a gun bought one in 2020.
There were a record 23 million federal firearms background checks done nationwide in 2020, a 64% increase from the previous year. A Washington Post analysis found that more than 2 million firearms were purchased last month alone, driven by fears over the mob-led assault on the Capitol and the Democrats’ majority status in Washington.
Last year Minnesota had the sixth most firearms background checks per capita in the United States. More than 950,000 background checks were done, up from just over 682,000 in 2019.
The number of gun sales is higher than the number of background checks done, as private sales and so-called gun-show sales don’t require background checks.
Sheriffs issue permits for residents who want to carry a handgun and they issue permits to those wanting to buy one.
“There was a significant increase in both permits to carry and permits to acquire,” said Cpt. Paul Barta of the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2020 the office issued 1,109 permits to carry, more than double the 508 in 2019. They issued 748 in 2018. So far this year they issued 120.
Permits to acquire rose from 286 in 2019 to 502 last year. Barta said that while they issue carry permits for the entire county including Mankato, the department issues permits to buy a gun only to residents outside Mankato.
Kane said it’s been nearly impossible to find guns or ammunition in the past year.
“There’s very little ammo or guns available out there. It’s pretty much across the board. Bolt-action rifles, there’s a few around but not a lot. Handguns, shotguns and semi-automatic rifles are very hard to find.
“And ammo, from 22 (caliber) to 10-gauge (shotgun shells) and everything in between, you can’t find it. It’s never been like this,” Kane said.
Since closing his store, after he took a job selling guns at a Mankato retailer and as he’s nearing retirement, Kane has been helping people buy guns online. People can’t directly buy a gun online and have it delivered to them. Instead the guns must go to federally licensed dealers such as Kane.
“It’s called a transfer. I do quite a few of those.”
His permit-to-carry classes are also in demand.
“I do at least two weekends a month and average a dozen people in a class. It’s still more men but there’s a lot more women than there used to be, probably 40% women,” Kane said.
Because of the shop’s large size and long history, Ahlman’s has a little better luck finding some guns and ammo. But they’ve reached out to more suppliers to try to get inventory, and they’re uncertain if and when it will come in.
“When a semi backs up, it’s like Christmas. You don’t know what you’re going to get. It might be a few boxes or once in a while you get lucky and get a whole skid of ammo,” Ahlman said. “If we get a skid of ammo or handguns in, we put it on Facebook and it’s gone in a day.”
He said gun manufacturers have hired more people and are running 24/7 but can’t keep up with demand.
Ammunition makers have other challenges, he said.
“Their raw material costs are going up and they’re having trouble finding it. They’re hiring more people, but they can only do so much powder and primer mix per day.”
He said high school trap clubs are likely to be affected. “We go through 20,000 to 30,000 rounds we sell for trap. They start around April. Trap’s getting more and more popular.”
The ammunition shortage started with handgun ammo but now is hitting hunters. “We don’t have 30-30 or other hunting ammo anymore. If you put a big order in now, you’ll be lucky to get it by fall,” Ahlman said.
He said gun prices have risen and ammo prices are up 20% to 40%.
Ahlman’s also ends up paying more for shipping.
“In the past I ordered enough that we’d get free shipping and we used to buy stuff from Minneapolis and they’d ship it free. But now I’m getting it from Texas or wherever, and the shipping is high.
“We’re able to get most of the stuff. But instead of a few days, it’s months. We’re kind of keeping up with demand.”
Ahlman said handguns account for 70% of sales. “Then a few people are looking for a hunting gun or this or that. Then there’s guys looking for AR-15s or military guns. They’re getting hard to find.”
He said worries that the Biden administration will add costs and regulation are causing some panic for people wanting to buy guns.
“Biden is threatening more taxation and regulations on guns. A lot will depend on the Democrats’ agenda the next two years. If they don’t do anything, things will go back to normal; but if they tax or pass regulations, it’ll rocket (demand) up again.
“I’d rather just see things stay steady instead of having these big spikes.”
Democrats will introduce legislation to renew a ban on AR-style rifles, have universal background checks, restrict high-capacity magazines and create a federal red flag law designed to prevent people at risk of harming themselves or others from purchasing a firearm.
But political analysts say it will be a tall order to get a majority of lawmakers on board. Years ago gun politics crossed party lines and more Democrats and Republicans have joined in opposing new gun regulations.