At one Soldotna gun supply store, national news drives local sales
When there’s a big national news cycle, Michael Modrell knows.
Not just from the Google Alerts he gets to his email or the news he sees on his phone. But also from the business in his store.
“Any time anything happens with Congress or the Supreme Court or gun control is brought up, people always come in and talk about it," he said.
Modrell manages Soldotna Ammunition on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
He said whenever there’s unrest or something big in the news in the Lower 48 — even if it has little or no direct connection to Alaska — people come in and start stockpiling.
That’s especially true when there’s any news related to gun control. Last week, Congress passed a gun law, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which enhances background checks for young people and funds risk prevention programs, among some other measures.
“The gun control one always makes people feel like now is the time to hurry up and buy these things that they worry they won’t be able to get later in the year," Modrell said.
But he said spikes in business are not exclusive to gun control conversations.
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, customers from all sides of the political spectrum came in to buy supply and talk politics. That was also true in 2020 and 2021, during the election and Black Lives Matter protests.
"It doesn't matter if it’s even happening in our community," Modrell said. "It’s just, people fear that it’s happening at all, in our nation. They feel this is the time to get stocked up on whatever.”
Modrell said some customers are concerned about personal safety when riots are happening in the Lower 48.
But he said in large part, the buyers stock up because they’re worried about the ongoing ammunition shortage that has hit gun supply stores around the country. And they think that any sort of unrest or chaos in the Lower 48 could make that shortage worse.
That shortage started in 2020 came from a combination of national turmoil and production setbacks.
Modrell said the shortage has improved, as vendors and buyers have caught up with the pent up demand. Still, it isn’t entirely resolved. At his store Wednesday, there were rows of empty shelves where there would normally be stacks and stacks of boxes.
And, not unlike the toilet paper crisis early in the pandemic, panic buying has just been making the problem worse.
"It always causes that little bit of panic," Modrell said. "And we financially benefit from it. But we try not to encourage it, because a panicked customer base doesn’t really help anything.”
Customer Steve Milliron comes into the store two or three times a week to check out new inventory. It’s not far from his house and he knows the guys in the store.
He’s noticed the ammunition shortage. He said he was shooting less to spare his ammo when it was at its peak.
“And so what I think it’s causing me to do is just try to probably keep more of a supply of ammo than I did before," Milliron said. "And I always try to replace what I shoot.”
When something does pop up, he said, he might be more likely to come in, since things aren’t always available. And he thinks his friends are doing much of the same.
“Not so much hoarding, but just because you don’t know when you can find it," he said. "And sometimes a couple boxes of things will show up, just randomly, and you go, ‘Oh, I could use that.’ and you get it and you don’t see it again for months. So it was a good thing that you did.”
It’s not just recreational gun owners like Milliron that are driving sales.
Soldotna Ammo sells supply to subsistence hunters in rural Alaska. And Modrell said those hunters, too, are stocking up — buying more supply at one time in case ammo hits another supply chain hitch.
"I’ve been planning to try to go to Bethel and Mountain Village and a few of those ones around there to see what it’s been like there," Modrell said. "I know the prices they’re charging for now are much higher because a lot of them, just like a lot of businesses, do a percentage over what they pay. And the cost for the ammo costs more now, the shipping it out there cost more now. There are hazmat fees that we didn’t use to have.”
But not everyone’s buying. Some people just want to see what other gun owners are thinking.
Modrell pointed to one customer on the security camera, who was browsing at a glass case. He said he comes in almost everyday, though he rarely buys anything.
"People spend more time in the shop, even if they’re shopping less," Modrell said. "Because they want to talk about whatever big thing happened.”
As long as people feel like there are big things happening nationally, he's not sure that traffic will let up any time soon.
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