STEVENSVILLE – At a gun show last week in Utah, a young man in his early 20s walked up to Darren Newsom to ask a question.
“He pulled the last $22 he had in his wallet and asked how many rounds he could get for that,” Newsom said. “He was literally taking the last few dollars he had in his pocket to buy ammunition.”
That touched a chord with this longtime ammunition manufacturer from the Bitterroot Valley.
For the second time in a row, the presidential election has sent ammunition manufacturers in the Bitterroot Valley into overdrive.
But the people buying ammunition this time around appear to be doing so for different reasons.
After the first election of President Barack Obama, Newsom said there was a lot of panic buying by people sure that laws were going to be passed that might make it difficult to obtain certain types of ammunition.
The mood was far different when he attended one of the largest gun shows in the nation in Tulsa recently.
“There’s not so much panic buying happening this time,” he said. “Mostly it was real serious gun owners preparing themselves for something they think might happen.”
“People seem to be scared out there,” Newsom said. “They seem to be scared there is going to be something like a civil war. They are preparing for something bad to happen.”
“In 2008, they thought their rights to buy ammunition might be taken away,” he said. “This time they seem to be buying in preparation for a revolution.”
Bitterroot Valley Ammunition and Components plant manager Misty Browning said she too has been hearing from people stocking up for some sort of doomsday scenario.
She said the Stevensville plant is three to four weeks out on delivering many calibers, except the popular .223 military-style caliber that most AR-style rifles use.
People ordering mass quantities of that caliber may have to wait four to five months for delivery.
That, despite the fact that BVAC’s plant pumps out about 300,000 rounds four days a week.
“All of our machines are maxed out,” Browning said. “We’re in the process of looking at the layout of our building to see where we can add more. We’re pumping out everything we can. Every hole is pretty much filled.”
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Newsom founded BVAC and later sold that business. In 2010, he started a new ammunition manufacturing operation called ACI that builds the raw materials used in the manufacturing process.
Newsom said all his production for 2013 is sold and he’s looking to expand.
There are three separate ammunition manufacturing businesses in the Bitterroot Valley. Newsom estimates that somewhere between 125 and 150 people are employed by them.
“There are a lot of different things being outsourced as well,” he said. “We always tried to keep everything local. It makes a difference to machine shops and other businesses in the valley.”
Newsom also imports a .45-caliber pistol from Philippines. He’s already sold out for 2013.
“It’s not just ammo,” he said. “It’s on the pistol side too. … Right now, we’re looking for an 18-month run. The only thing that will slow it down is a new law or the economy.”
Montana Shooting Sports Association president Gary Marbut has been tracking the number of people requesting a background check required for the purchase of a gun.
“Nationwide, over the last four years, every month has set a record for sales in that month,” Marbut said. “It just keeps going up and up.”
A couple of longtime national pistol manufacturers quit taking orders for months because they couldn’t keep up with the backlog, he said.
“We’ve never heard of that before in the firearms business,” Marbut said. “That wasn’t even connected to the election.”
Marbut believes uncertainty about the economy and political situation is driving sales of ammunition and firearms in this country.
“People are just anxious,” he said. “They hear the saber rattling and they have no idea how real it is. They want to make their lives as certain as they can in the face of all this apparent uncertainty.”
Newsom said people were listening in the presidential debates when the potential of a ban on assault weapons was mentioned.
“The president said some things in the second debate that really got people fired up,” Newsom said. “There are 180 million gun owners in the United States. Each one might own 10 guns. There are a lot of people out there who think if someone tries to take any of them, the government will have a revolution on their hands.
“I don’t see it myself, but it all comes back to that kid wanting to spend his last dollars on ammo,” he said. “It has people worried.”