Skyrocketing gun sales trigger US ammo shortage

Wholesale and distributor inventories are 'leanest we’ve ever seen'

More and more Americans are buying firearms for the first time this year. Loading them is a different story.

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“Some of the frustration we’ve frankly heard from some of the new users is that they bought a firearm, they can’t find any ammunition, because it’s in short supply,” Vista Outdoor Inc. CEO Christopher Metz said on the company’s quarterly earnings call on Thursday.

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The spike in gun sales follows a wave of civil unrest after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in police custody, as well as an increase in outdoor recreation amid COVID-19 lockdowns.

Firearms enthusiasts are also prepping for the possibility of stricter regulations should former Vice President Joe Biden ride a blue wave to an election victory in November.

Gun sales surged 135% year-over-year in July to about 2 million and have already matched all of last year, according to a report released earlier this week by research consultancy Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting. Sales were up 145% in June, 80% in May and 71% in April.

THIS YEAR'S GUN SALES HAVE ALREADY OUTPACED 2019'S TOTAL

Ammo sales, however, typically take “multiple months to catch up” to gun sales, according to Metz, which could lead to even tighter supplies in the months ahead.

Sales of ammunition at Vista Outdoor, based in Anoka, Minnesota, rose 22 percent year-over-year during the most recent quarter, which ended in June.

Wholesale and distributor inventories are the “leanest we’ve ever seen,” and it’s not due to a materials shortage, Metz said.

Vista, which kept the ammunition business after selling its Savage Arms and Stevens firearms brands in 2019, had the strongest order-writing month in its history in March and its second-strongest in July.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
VSTOVISTA OUTDOOR19.20+0.27+1.43%

Business “certainly hasn’t slowed down” Metz said.

Retailers have told the company that even if sales were to come to a screeching halt, it would still take them months to restock their shelves with the supply they need to feel comfortable.

Revenue from the company's shooting sports unit, which includes the ammunition and hunting and shooting categories, climbed 17 percent from a year ago to $334 million. Overall sales were up 4 percent at $479 million.

Looking ahead, Vista predicts second-quarter 2021 sales of $495 million to $515 million and earnings of 60 cents to 70 cents a share.

Vista shares climbed 144 percent this year through Wednesday, outperforming the S&P 500’s 3 percent gain.