ALBANY, N.Y. - Gun enthusiasts fearful of new weapon controls and alarmed by rumors of government hoarding are buying bullets practically by the bushel, making it hard for stores nationwide to keep shelves stocked and even putting a pinch on some local law enforcement departments.
At a 24-hour Walmart in suburban Albany, the ammunition cabinet was three-fourths empty this week; sales clerks said customers must arrive before 9 the morning after a delivery to get what they want. A few miles away, Dick's Sporting Goods puts up a red rope after ammunition deliveries so buyers can line up early to get a number, averting races up the escalator to the gun counter. Both stores are limiting ammunition purchases to three boxes a day.
In mid-January, two days after New York became the first state to toughen laws post-Newtown, hunter and target shooter Mark Smith spent $250 to stockpile ammunition, including $43 for a brick of 500 .22-caliber bullets, commonly used for target shooting and hunting small game.
In this Feb. 21, 2007 file photo, Bruce Martindale takes aim as he competes in a weekly air gun league in Troy, N.Y. Martindale, who normally uses a .22-caliber, has cut back on practice because ammunition is in short supply.
"I had a feeling there was going to be a huge ammunition shortage," said Smith, browsing shotgun shells this week at Dick's. "Especially .22s. It's probably the most popular round out there."
Likewise, the .223 ammunition used in popular semi-automatic rifles is hard to find.
At Hunter's Haven, a strip-mall gun shop in the farming community of Rolesville, N.C., north of Raleigh, clerk Dean Turnage said ammunition is going out "as fast as we can get it in," even though new gun controls are not on the state's agenda.
The run started in November with President Barack Obama's re-election, followed by the mass shooting in December of children in Newtown, Conn., which led the president to launch an effort to strengthen federal gun controls and several states to tighten their laws.
Connecticut on Thursday became the latest to crack down as the governor signed a measure - effective immediately - that adds more than 100 firearms to the state's assault weapons ban, creates a dangerous weapon offender registry and institutes eligibility rules for ammunition purchases.
Hours before the law took effect, hundreds of customers streamed out of Hoffman's Gun Center in Newington with guns and boxes of ammunition.
"The bad guys are going to get guns," said John Power, 56, of Bristol, arguing the new law would not stop a troubled gunman.
The nation's 100 million firearms owners are driving the market for some 10 billion rounds annually, with demand and gun purchases both increasing the past several months, driven partly by fear that tougher laws will restrict the ability to buy firearms, said Lawrence Keane, whose National Shooting Sports Foundation is based in Newtown.