How to Survive Panic Buying

Five things gun owners should remember when fear empties a gun store's shelves.

How to Survive Panic Buying

By now you’ve felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and are weary of it. You may not have the disease, but the near-global shutdown will continue to be felt for some time. Millions of people have reconsidered the importance for ensuring their own personal safety, which has prompted many law-abiding citizens to buy a gun — or at least try to buy a gun. For some, purchasing firearms and ammunition is not an option due to local restrictions or a lack of supply.

Guns & Ammo has been discussing what’s to come with firearm and ammunition manufacturers, and though most won’t divulge specific numbers of specific items sold, one fact is clear: guns and ammo are continuing to sell, and there’s no indication that demand will let up anytime soon. To be honest, manufacturers are now facing their own supply issues of key ingredients or the unavailability of small parts and components. Finding guns and ammo is likely to become more challenging before. Here are five considerations to successfully navigate periods of high demand.

1. Demand during periods of panic buying is focused.

How to Survive Panic Buying

Gun store owners, firearm and ammunition manufacturers and retailers share a similar story: The demand in a panic buy is focused on defensive handguns, AR-type or black rifles, and pump shotguns are experiencing the most sales and demand. Legislation aimed at taking away specific firearms — AR-15s and magazine-fed semiautomatics are the most common target — causes gun sales to boom. What dealers have seen, however, are that panic buyers aren’t typically connoisseurs. You can still find guns and ammunition for excellent defensive-worthy cartridges such as .357 SIG, .38 Super, 10mm Auto, and .44 Special. There’s also a higher demand for affordable guns and high-quality pistols and rifles higher price tags. Whereas some cost-conscious customers may have been reluctant to purchase a pistol from Ed Brown, Nighthawk Custom or Wilson Combat, we’re hearing that people are starting to reconsider these as options with more firearms being sold in the $1,500 to $2,500 range than usual.

2. Ammo outsells firearms when panic strikes.

Not surprisingly, 9mm and 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington loads are the hardest to find with .380 ACP, .38 Special/.357 Magnum, .40 S&W and .45 ACP handgun ammo are almost gone, especially near urban populations. The post-COVID-19 lesson for the rest of us is to be sure we stock up on ammo — especially range loads such as those from American Eagle, Fiocchi, Hornady Frontier, Remington UMC and Winchester’s white box. These loads fly off store shelves first. If the effects of the pandemic lasts for a year or more, you’ll want to have plenty of ammunition to enjoy or train with.


How to Survive Panic Buying

As brisk as gun sales have been over the last couple weeks (NICS background checks are up about 300 percent from this time last year), we’ve found that ammo is at the heart of the current buying spree. Brownells.com typically stocks dozens of loads of 9mm ammo, but our choices are currently down to one brand as of this writing. There are load for .380 ACP, .40 S&W and .45 ACP ammo still available, but supplies are so low that the remaining products could be gone in hours. There are still pistols available for sale in every one of those sold-out calibers, however. The takeaway is that ammo supplies dry up faster than firearms during a panic buy.


3. Understanding the supply chain is important.

Not many consumers understand how the supply chain for guns and ammunition works. Firearms and ammunition are made or assembled from third party sources (depending on the company) and then shipped to retailers or distributors who then either sell the items directly to customers or to other, gun stores. Understanding the supply chain can help you get your hands on what’s available among the in-demand items.

“Large retailers usually fill out requests sooner than smaller ones, and that means they’ll often get product first,” said Hornady’s Neal Emery. “It’s a good idea to get on a waiting list at places like Brownells, Midway USA, Mid-South, Natchez Shooters Supply, and others. Because those companies do high sales volumes at all times, they have to be thinking ahead constantly. So, their orders have already been placed, and that can move you to the front of the line.  

4. This will affect hunting season.

Without question, the current demand is about to impact the 2020 hunting season. Just because you don’t hunt big game with a 9mm or 5.56mm chambering doesn’t mean that you won’t feel the aftershocks of the current buying spree either. While resources are being centered around meeting demand for high-volume products, you can expect that production of other products will slow, too.

How to Survive Panic Buying

“It takes time to swap out a bullet press,” Emery said. “That means right now there’s not a lot of incentive to set up a machine that’s making .30-caliber bullets to suddenly start making .25-caliber bullets.” That is bad news for .25-’06 fans, among others.


If you want ammo for use this fall, you’d better start keeping your eyes open right now and decide to buy if you’re going to need it. It doesn’t mean that you won’t find any of your favorite centerfire hunting ammo, but if production on high-demand items continues at the current pace, odds are that restocking depleted hunting stores of low-volume hunting ammo won’t be an immediate priority for the ammunition manufacturers. 

5. Acting quickly is key.

In a panic-buying situation, products arrive at the retailer when the manufacturer can ship them. Oftentimes, the retailer doesn’t know exactly when this will occur, so it’s on you to stay vigilant. Recently, I was discussing the current dearth of 9mm ammo with Brownell’s Roy Hill while a shipment of 9mm arrived at Brownell’s from Aguila. All of it was snatched up as quickly as it was inventoried and stocked. (No, it wasn’t me who cleaned out that shipment.) It’s very important to keep an eye on what’s available. At the very least, it’ll take your mind off of those depressing news headlines. 

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