Friday, March 29, 2013 | 2 a.m.
When Nye County Sheriff Anthony DeMeo inquired about the department’s usual order of 50,000 rounds of ammunition, he received a startling answer from the ammunition supplier.
It might take up to a year before the department would get its shipment, and it would certainly arrive no sooner than six months. For the first time in DeMeo’s experience in law enforcement, his department was facing a potential ammunition shortage for the upcoming year.
“This is the first time ever I’ve heard that there’s a problem with a law enforcement agency getting ammo for their agency,” DeMeo said.
DeMeo said he’d recently heard of several other police departments nationwide struggling with the same problem. Media reports across the country note police departments from places such as Marinette, Wis., and Sandy Springs, Ga., dealing with ammunition shortages.
In Southern Nevada, however, officials from Metro, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Mesquite police departments have not reported any issues with obtaining ammunition.
“Right now we don’t have any issues, but we’re concerned about next year’s (gun training) qualifications,” DeMeo said. “So right now we’re making sure we will have ammunition.”
There are a few theories about why the supply of ammunition is evaporating like water in the desert. One attributes it to a shortage in copper and bronze, the Gun Store owner Bob Irwin speculated. Another reason, DeMeo said, might be the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s request for a billion rounds of ammunition.
But the biggest reason might be “panic buying,” Irwin said. Many gun owners are stocking up on ammunition out of fear the federal government, in the wake of last year’s Connecticut school shootings, might enact gun control laws that would restrict ammunition purchases.
While ammunition suppliers have rounds designated for law enforcement purchase only, the growing demand might create a shortage of bullets readily available for purchase by police agencies, Irwin said.
For police departments, a shortage could have a huge impact, DeMeo said. Most bullets are used during state-required training. Nye County employs about 110 officers, each equipped with two weapons — one for home and one for work — with which they must pass proficiency standards.
Without a proper supply of ammunition, DeMeo said it could prevent officers from meeting their testing standards, resulting in a disastrous litigation issue if that officer had to fire a weapon on duty. After all, shooting is a skill that deteriorates; it must be proved over and over, DeMeo said.
“God forbid if a citizen is inadvertently (shot) and (an officer) can’t show they qualified in that skill. It could be very problematic for the city, county or state government to defend the lack of qualification training,” DeMeo said.
DeMeo hopes to cut off the looming ammo drought before it arrives. The sheriff’s office can’t purchase any rounds until the next fiscal year, but that could mean bullets might not arrive until the following year. Instead, he said he planned to discuss with the supplier putting in the order before paying for it.
If that doesn’t work, DeMeo said he might ask for the allotted $25,000 in the budget for ammunition ahead of time.
“I thought everyone going out and getting ammo might slow down a bit,” DeMeo said. “It hasn’t.”
Until the craze dies down, DeMeo will have to wait while his department’s ammunition stock dries up.