The USA is suffering the most severe ammunition famine in living memory. Gun fanciers, fearing a Democrat crackdown on every American's right to pack heat, are clearing shelves at ammo shops and hoarding cartridges.
AP reports that the Remington Arms Company's factory in North Carolina is now working around the clock trying to supply insatiable demand for rifle, pistol and shotgun cartridges.
"We've had to add a fourth shift and go 24-7," Remington spokesman Al Russo told the news wire. "It's a phenomenon that I have not seen before in my 30 years in the business."
The shortages are so bad that retail globocorp Wal-Mart has been forced to introduce rationing at the ammo counter in many of its stores. Depending on calibre, customers may be limited to purchases of just 50 rounds at a time. Apparently, classic .45 ACP pistol ammunition is especially scarce - a fairly good indication that it is in fact conservative Middle America rather than, say, inner-city criminals buying up all the ammo*.
According to the National Rifle Association, America's pro-guns lobby, the people of the USA normally buy about 7 billion cartridges a year (an average of 23 rounds per head). The past year has seen that figure jump to 9 billion. The FBI reports a 25 per cent climb in background checks made prior to gun sales.
The ammo rush has been dubbed the "Obama effect" by gun-industry people, but in fact there is no sign at present of any particularly aggressive move towards stricter federal gun laws.
Police forces across the States reportedly suffered from some ammo shortages earlier in the year, but this was in large part unrelated to the surge in civilian demand. Rather, heavy use by the US military overseas made it hard to obtain ammunition such as 5.56mm assault-rifle/intermediate-power cartridges, commonly used by plods and troops but much less so by civilian gun owners.
Meanwhile the ongoing shortages have seen ammo prices soar.
"Used to be gold, but now lead is the most expensive metal," one gun enthusiast told AP. "And worth every penny." ®
*Most kinds of .45 have unexceptional muzzle energy and are big and fat, giving fairly poor performance even against light, flexible body armour. It was the standard US military pistol round for a long time and many diehards still swear by it, but people who carry guns for a living - cops, soldiers, criminals - are mostly using other calibres these days. (Some spec-ops troops still use .45, as the bullet is subsonic and thus can be effectively silenced.)