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Ammo sales began to soar three days before election, maker says

January 30, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • A .223-caliber cartridge at CJI Guns store in Tucker, Ga., in December 2012.
A .223-caliber cartridge at CJI Guns store in Tucker, Ga., in December 2012. (Erik S. Lesser / European…)

The threat of regulation has been good for the gun business: "Get 'em while you can" is one of the best sales pitches there is. With bullets, it's no different.

Sales for ammunition manufacturer Winchester began to increase three days before President Barack Obama was reelected in November, an executive for Winchester owner Olin Corp. said Tuesday in a conference call with analysts, and sales haven't let up.

Buyers have been scrambling for bullets in the wake of the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and during the ensuing talk about increased regulation of guns and ammunition.

Some vendors have reported staying up late at night to check for the latest batch of ammunition to arrive at wholesalers before it disappears off the shelves. Some police agencies have had trouble buying ammunition, resulting in training cutbacks.

That demand is reflected in Winchester's overall sales for the last three months of 2012: a 27% increase over the same period in 2011. Sales to the general public were up 36%, the company reported. 

Winchester officials said the company's backlog on its non-police, non-military orders reached $280 million in January -- nearly 10 times its $29-million backlog at the end of 2011.

"It is our view that the current surge is stronger and has expanded across the product line more quickly than the late 2008, early 2009 surge," Joseph Rupp, head of Olin, said in the conference call. That earlier surge coincided with Obama's election and first inauguration. 

Winchester makes a broad range of ammunition for hunters and home defense, including for .223-caliber semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the Sandy Hook shooting, which has since been targeted by gun control legislation.

Asked whether he would considering selling the Winchester business unit because of the unfavorable headlines, Rupp said he might consider it in the future, but not now. He added that for Winchester, the "ammunition business has a lot of runway ahead of it."

After all, you can fire a bullet only once, and once you do, you need to buy more.

Asked whether stockpiling would affect business, Rupp said, "The only thing I would just remind you is that people have stockpiled in every surge. And ultimately, it will get used."

matt.pearce@latimes.com

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