Ammunition shortages and firearms training
It is critical police firearms trainers evaluate what can be accomplished on the range with limited ammunition
This article is part of a year-long series for Police1 registered members from Todd Fletcher titled “Police Firearms: Discussion, Drills & Demos.” Todd will write about current hot topics related to police firearms training, outline firearms training drills and demonstrate shooting techniques on video. If you have a topic you would like Todd to cover, or a training problem you need to solve, email email@example.com.
Firearms training is critically important for police officers, and training cannot stop simply because ammunition is difficult to find. If you or your department are getting low on training ammunition, you need to evaluate how you plan, purchase and store training ammunition. Also, take the opportunity to evaluate your current firearms training program and discover how much you can accomplish on the range with limited ammunition.
a short history of ammunition shortages
This isn’t the first time that ammunition has been difficult to find. The prospect of Y2K and the September 11 terrorist attacks caused ammunition shortages. In late 2008, after the election of President Barack Obama, we saw an ammo buying frenzy spurred on by expectations of more restrictive gun laws, limits on the amount of ammunition a person could possess and taxes on ammunition. The resulting demand left retailer’s shelves empty including suppliers of law enforcement training ammunition. This shortage lasted about two years before manufacturers were able to fill the shelves again.
Due to potential gun control laws being introduced by Congress in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, there was another shortage. Many gun owners felt there would be limits placed on the sale of firearms and popular ammunition calibers such as 9mm, .40 S&W, .45ACP handgun rounds and .223/5.56mm and .308 rifle rounds. Unfortunately, these are also the most popular choices for law enforcement.
During the 2016 presidential election, ammunition became hard to find once again, as many gun owners expected new restrictions depending on the outcome of the election. This shortage only lasted about eight months, but once again, this affected law enforcement training supplies.
As 2020 started, firearm and ammunition supplies were readily available. But by March, these supplies were flying off the shelves once again. People became concerned about social instability during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was compounded by health restrictions on businesses and social gatherings. In addition to increased demand, COVID-19 affected ammunition production. Manufacturers found it difficult to get ammunition components due to slowed global supply lines caused by the pandemic. This affected the supply of powder, cases, primers, and other necessities such as packing tape and cardboard boxes. This problem has mostly passed as companies have adapted to operating under COVID-19 guidelines.
To compound the problem, civil unrest in major cities across the United States resulted in many first-time firearm owners wanting control over their own safety and well-being. To cap off the “Great Ammunition Shortage of 2020,” a hotly contested presidential election once again stoked fears of more restrictive gun control laws. Hoarding of ammunition was worse than the hoarding of toilet paper!
Today, firearms, ammunition and reloading components are hard to find anywhere. Even if you find some on the shelf, retailers and wholesalers have put restrictions on the number of rounds or boxes that may be purchased at one time. Once again, gun owners are stockpiling ammunition and reloading components resulting in fewer rounds available for law enforcement training.
Planning for the purchasing and storing of ammunition
The question for law enforcement, especially administrators and trainers, is how do we navigate these ammunition shortages and continue to train officers?
During my career as a law enforcement officer and trainer, I’ve been through six ammunition shortages, which all caused my agency to take a serious look at how we budgeted, purchased and stored training ammunition. Since I worked during several shortages, even I was smart enough to recognize a pattern. The challenge was trying to change some administrative processes to overcome future ammunition shortages.
The first thing we did was budget money to give the department two years of training ammunition. This was surprisingly simple because the city where I worked went to a two-year budget cycle at the same time. This could be challenging depending on how your department prepares budgets but is a battle worth fighting. Eventually, we were able to purchase enough training ammunition to last two years when supply finally caught back up to demand.
Now that we had the money budgeted and the ammo ordered, our next problem was a bit trickier to solve: where do we store it? To stay dependable, ammunition must be stored in a dry, temperature-stable environment. It should also be locked up so access can be controlled. We solved one problem by storing most of the ammunition in a room only accessible by firearm instructors and command staff. We still had an entire pallet of ammunition to store in the sally port, but at least most of it was put away and ready for training.
Changing how you budget, plan and purchase training ammunition is all well and good for tomorrow but training today is much more challenging when you have a short supply. It’s easy to develop drills and courses of fire that consume large amounts of ammunition. The challenge lies in getting the same or more training value from drills using significantly fewer rounds.
One way to increase training value without increasing round count is to combine multiple skills into one drill. To force officers to conduct reloads, instructors can design drills where magazines are loaded with only 3-4 rounds. Add movement, communication between officers, use of cover, multiple targets, threat assessment, communication with dispatch, communication with responding officers, self-care/buddy care and handcuffing. This is starting to sound like a really good drill! It takes a little imagination to combine multiple skills in these courses of fire, but most instructors have the knowledge and skill to make it happen.
If you’re looking for low round count drills that stress marksmanship under time duress, a plethora of good drills are available from some great instructors like Dave Spaulding’s “FYFO Drill,” Tom Givens’ “Rangemaster Bullseye Course,” Justin Dyal’s “Par 5” and Todd Green’s “1-2-R-3,” among many others. In the face of the current ammunition shortage, all it takes is a little research, some imagination and a willingness to step outside your usual training practices to discover some fantastic new drills that can help improve your officer’s skills, keep them engaged in training and keep your program moving forward.
At this point, the ammunition supply doesn’t appear to be returning to normal any time soon. Instructors will need to be flexible and creative to provide quality training. When supplies begin to outpace demand and ammunition become more readily available, it will be time to reevaluate how you budget, plan and store training ammunition so the next shortage doesn’t affect your officers and training programs. The good news is at least toilet paper supplies have started to return.