Walmart ammo ammunition gun shelf empty

Image courtesy Jim McGuire

With retail shelves practically empty of firearms — semi-autos in particular — and available ammunition a distant memory of The Time Before, no doubt all of TTAG’s readership is well aware that the past nine-plus months have been a strange time for gun and ammo manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and customers. But you probably didn’t know things had gotten this weird.

Allow me to set the stage: I co-own a firearm and component brand and, while we don’t retail other brands of firearms as part of our business, we have accounts with the four largest wholesale distributors in the industry so we can purchase components (grips, magazines, optics, etc.) for building out our complete guns.

Since things got “interesting” early last spring, many friends, neighbors, and other acquaintances have asked if my company could source a gun for them to buy. In all cases they looked locally and came up dry. The typical request: “XYZ handgun, but at this point I’ll take basically any semi-automatic handgun at all . . . maybe a semi-auto rifle of some sort if there aren’t any good pistols.”

So I hop on a distributor’s website and filter their inventory for firearms > handguns and rifles > semi-auto > in-stock only. And the search comes up nearly dry. What starts as over 9,000 unique firearm SKUs ends up with one to four models that have at least one unit in stock, and they’re almost never what my friend or neighbor is looking for.

Having played this game a couple of dozen times since last spring, in-stock semi-autos have almost never included more than some Smith & Wesson Model 41s (a high-end .22 LR target pistol), a SIG P210 (high-end 9mm target pistols), and the occasional .22 LR carbine of some sort. And ammo? Zilch. Well, there was some .50 BMG and some 12 gauge available here and there.

To be clear, this isn’t because the distributors aren’t receiving any inventory. Manufacturers are making as much as they possibly possibly can, and the product is getting into distribution, but there’s such an incredible level of demand that anything and everything made has a long line of dealer backorders. As soon as it arrives at the distributor, there’s already a huge list of dealers who have committed to buy it.

So for a company like mine, which doesn’t stock other brands of firearms to sell at retail, there’s effectively zero chance of getting our hands on one until supply catches up with this unprecedented demand.

Which brings us to Friday, when a box containing two pistols — a Ruger and a Smith & Wesson — showed up at the office. It was shipped to us from one of our distributors…but we hadn’t ordered the guns.

I hopped on their website and, sure enough, the order for those guns was in our order history, but I was sure we didn’t place it either intentionally or accidentally. A quick email search showed that we hadn’t received the automated order confirmation email that normally accompanies orders we place. A glance at our checking account history showed the $853 withdrawal from the day the package shipped.

So I emailed our rep and told him that it appeared an order was accidentally associated with and charged to our account, but we hadn’t placed it. If the guns were supposed to go to another customer, I said, I’m sure they really want them so we’re happy to ship them to the correct location. But if it was some sort of error, well, I suppose we’d just keep the guns and put them up for sale at full MSRP since they’re almost certain to get snatched up right away.

Our rep emailed back within a few minutes. Get a load of this: He placed and sent the order “to hook you up,” because we hadn’t ordered in a while and he knows how impossible it has been to get guns like these two allocated (heavily backordered and quantity-limited per dealer) models. Basically the message was “I did you a favor, I’m awesome, you’re welcome.”

At the same time, of course, he offered to immediately send a return shipping label if, for some reason, we didn’t want them. You mean these gifts that we unknowingly bought for ourselves thanks to your generosity? Actually, I guess we do want them.

This, then, is the current state of the industry. The level of demand for virtually every firearm made is so insane now that a sales rep surprise-sells me something I didn’t ask for and expects me to be grateful. The sales guy closes the sale, informs the buyer that it happened, and says “you’re welcome,” and the buyer says “thank you.”

Never in my life have I heard of anything like this. It absolutely cracks me up, because it’s entirely bizarre…but at the same time, he isn’t wrong. Every gun shop in the country right now would have been thrilled to learn that they had unexpectedly paid $853 for two random handgun models that they didn’t ask for.

It’s true, which is why it’s utterly bonkers.


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