FARMINGTON — The Farmington Police Department now orders its ammunition about a year in advance after retail stocks nationally began running low due to greater demand.

Trade officials say the shortages largely began in 2013 when gun owners began stockpiling bullets after a high-profile school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that created some momentum in Congress to pass stricter gun control laws.

The longer wait time could threaten police supplies, said Sgt. Donnie Kee, who handles ammunition purchases for the city's police department, but shortages are unlikely if departments plan ahead.

"We have to be able to predict what our projected usage for the year will be," he said.

Sgt. Rick Simmons, left, and SWAT medic Jesse Hickey stand on a ridge near Safety City in Kirtland Thursday while testing tactical medical supplies.
Sgt. Rick Simmons, left, and SWAT medic Jesse Hickey stand on a ridge near Safety City in Kirtland Thursday while testing tactical medical supplies. (Megan Farmer/ The Daily Times)

City Council on Tuesday authorized spending more than $62,000 to buy 228,500 rounds for the police department, according to city documents. In 2012 the department ordered through the city 255,500 rounds and in 2011 almost 240,000 rounds, according to city documents.

Police will fire 87 percent of this year's rounds training and maintaining the proficiency of its SWAT team, police officers and academy cadets in the use of shotguns, rifles and handguns, Kee said.

"It seems like a lot," he said, "but you have to consider that this is for three different types of weapon systems that we have to maintain."

The department's most common orders are for 9 mm and full metal jacket .223 caliber rounds, according to city documents.

During the peak of the stockpiling, those types of rounds were among the most commonly bought, said Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade association based in Newtown, Conn.

But now, he said, ammunition prices are leveling, a sign that fewer people are stockpiling. Most popular now — a round that police departments do not use in large quantities — are .22 LR rounds, he said.

Police departments called him when the stockpiling began, concerned ammunition may become unavailable and saying they had to plan far in advance when ordering bullets, he said.

He said the reason for the easing of demand is two-pronged

"It's a classic supply and demand situation," he said.

Many U.S. citizens began to fear federal legislation would ban ammunition, he said.

But also, he said, more citizens began buying firearms, which manufactures are building to accommodate a greater range of bullets. Firearm retailers are reporting that a quarter of their customers are first-time gun buyers, and many of them are target shooters, he said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' most recent statistics show about 6.5 million firearms were manufactured in 2011 and about 5.5 million in 2010 and 2009.

But there are other theories.

The source of the fear that drove ammunition hoarding is President Barack Obama, said Erich Pratt, director of communications for Gun Owners of America, a firearms advocacy lobbying group.

"You could give him the gun-salesman of the year award," he said.

His "attack" on the Second Amendment spurred the fear that launched the national hoarding, he said. He has heard of gun owners, some of whom he knows personally, who buy rifles, guns and ammunition and cache them underground.

Lindsay Nichols, a Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence attorney, disagrees.

"The way the gun lobby is presenting the issue of new legislation actually serves two purposes," she said. "It serves to defeat these new proposals and drive up the ammunition sales."

Gun lobbyists, such as Gun Owners of America, drum up the fear of ammunition shortages by misrepresent federal proposals, she said.

"It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," she said of gun lobbyist's actions.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.