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Boom in the Hawaii Gun Business

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Barren Barrels

More so than firearms, shop owners across the nation are struggling to stock enough ammunition to fill their customers’ needs. The National Rifle Association and at least some gun manufacturers say the current shortage is a matter of suppliers unable to keep up with the growing civilian demand, even though ammunition factories are running at full capacity. Despite rumors to the contrary, government purchases of ammunition and proposed purchases amount to only about 3 percent of the total domestic ammunition production, says the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action.

“There is way too much demand for manufacturers to meet with supply,” says the NRA-ILA on its website. “There is not enough tooling, infrastructure or raw materials at the ready anywhere in the entire world to keep up with current consumer demand. And that’s why we are seeing shortages.”

However, many people in the local gun community and in conservative media nationally are blaming the shortage on a large order of ammunition from the Department of Homeland Security. Oshima says that the large order “maxed out the production capabilities of all the big ammunition manufacturers. … Everything is always completely sold out in the popular calibers.”

Photo: David Croxford

He adds, “It is obvious that Obama’s administration wants to curb the sale of guns in America and a blatant attempt at this is to stifle the ability to sell ammunition.”

When Oshima receives an order of ammunition, he says, his store rations it. First in line are customers purchasing firearms; if there is ammunition left, it is sold to firearms instructors and, finally, to customers who need refills.

There are currently no firearms distributors in Hawaii, so dealers say they are purchasing ammunition from anyone on the mainland or even in foreign countries who has it, driving costs up substantially. “The .22-caliber bullet is typically inexpensive, but right now it’s nearly impossible to get your hands on this ammo,” Gerwig says. “I used to buy 5,000 rounds of .22s for $200, but now I have to beg for them at $300.”

Two years ago, customers could purchase a .22-caliber bullet for a penny to 2.5 cents per bullet, but today each one costs around 6 cents to 8 cents, “if you can find it, which you can’t,” Gerwig says.

Clinton Bodley, a gun hobbyist and collector, says he recently stopped shooting popular caliber ammunition because of the high cost. “Essentially customers are buying a consumable product with no expiration date, so as long as they own firearms that accept a given caliber, that caliber is useful for them almost indefinitely,” he says. “If I didn’t have a stockpile of a certain caliber, it isn’t worth it to keep shooting.”

As the purchasing frenzy begins to subside and more ammunition slowly make its way to Hawaii, costs should decline, according to Gerwig. “Those who bought permits in 2012 are not shooting as much as they would like to because of the high price of ammo,” he says.

Competitive Shooting

Sara Tashima holds five national shooting records. The 16-year-old senior at Sacred Hearts Academy placed second in the nation in the standing-position competition at the National Rifle Association’s Junior Air Gun Championship in July.

Photos: Joseph Nishimiya

Firearm shop owners agree that a majority of their customers purchase for competitive shooting sports. For competitors like 16-year-old Sara Tashima, a senior at Sacred Hearts Academy, high prices inhibit her training and sometime discourages her from buying equipment best suited for her needs. “I began to practice using less ammunition and try my best not to waste any,” Tashima says. Sport shooting costs quickly add up when competitors pay for equipment, ammunition and competition fees.

As a left-handed shooter, a majority of Tashima’s shooting equipment needs to be custom made. “I need a .22 competition rifle for left-handed competitors, and these rifles have prices ranging from $1,000 to $3,000,” she says. On left-handed rifles, bolts are switched to make reloading easier. “This is not a cheap sport and it requires so much equipment to shoot well,” she says. Despite practicing with less ammunition, Tashima says, her scores weren’t seriously lower during recent competitions.

She currently holds five national shooting records. At the National Rifle Association’s Junior Air Gun Championship in July, she placed fifth overall and second in the standing-position competition. She won the Excellence in Competition badge at the National Air Rifle Junior Olympics by accruing 30 match points in her career as an air-rifle competitor. “I shot a match with the least amount of practice in my lifetime and I felt I wasn’t ready, but I ended up shooting my highest score in smallbore (.22-caliber rifle shooting),” she says.

Few Training Sites

Along with a shortage in ammunition, Tashima and other gun owners have to cope with a shortage of shooting ranges throughout the Islands. The shooting team at Sacred Hearts Academy doesn’t have its own facility and the girls must go to another school to practice. “Despite the 20 points on the range, it’s still quite overcrowded and some shooters don’t have a point to practice on,” Tashima says. “I would love to see more shooting facilities in the future.”

Gerwig agrees. “There are not nearly enough ranges in Hawaii and we need a lot more. We need ranges where people can go out and train safely.” The only shooting ranges in Hawaii open to the public are the Koko Head Shooting Complex on Oahu, the Ukemehame Shooting Range on Maui and the Hilo Trap and Skeet Range.

One project in the works is the 640-acre Hawaii Public Shooting Range in Puuanahulu, North Kona, on Hawaii Island. “There is no facility close to it in Hawaii. It will be a world-class shooting facility and the best shooting range in the Islands,” says Gerwig. “The Big Island is big, and because shooting ranges are so few and far between, people are going out into the woods and shooting. When new shooters are being forced into the woods to shoot, it’s dangerous. We need ranges where people can go out and train safely; they need to know what the outcome will be when they pull the trigger.”

The site will include public ranges for rifle, pistol, archery, bow hunting, sporting clays, trap, skeet and air gun. The project is a collaboration between the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and On Target Inc., a nonprofit supporting range development. On Target’s president, Richard Hoeflinger, says the project meets the needs of all of Hawaii’s shooting communities.

“We think it’s going to be a huge financial asset to the state when shooting tournaments can be hosted here,” he says. There is no scheduled completion date yet, Hoeflinger says, but he adds, “I have spent 11 years working on this shooting range, and I wouldn’t have spent all this time on it if I didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Glennon Gingo, On Target’s VP, says the completion date is dependent on public and private funding and the project’s environmental assessment. “There are a lot more people involved in shooting in Hawaii than most people realize and we have a very good base of support from the community,” he says.

Orlando Oxiles, program manager at DLNR, says the Legislature granted $3 million this year toward the project and the pre-construction phase is scheduled to be completed by 2016.

Pre-construction funds have also been dedicated to another proposed shooting range, this one in Hanahanapuni, Kauai, says Oxiles.

Photo: Joseph Nishimiya

New technologies

Former police officer Mark Redeker’s inventory has been flying off shelves at his store, Maui Ammo and Gun Supply, since its opening a year and a half ago. Noticing the high customer volume, unaffordability of ammunition and lack of shooting ranges on Maui, Redeker is currently extending his shop to include an indoor shooting range and an infrared firearms training system.

“We were always going to build an indoor shooting range, but we changed our business plan based on the current situation with ammunition and focused on the electronic force simulator,” says Redeker. “If we can provide an avenue where customers can shoot 1,000 to 2,000 rounds for $20 instead of buying ammunition, that makes sense.”

Mark Redeker, the owner of Maui Ammo and Gun Supply in Wailuku, is turning this space next to his shop into an indoor shooting range. The national shortage of ammunition for sale persuaded Redeker to modify his plans, so now there will be a range that uses guns modified to shoot infrared light at targets rather than bullets.

Photos: Joseph Nishimiya

The force simulator is a theater-style program that projects life-size images on a screen so that users can practice shooting on moving, real-life scenarios – much like a full-size video game. The system uses real firearms that are remade into infrared light shooters with a pressurized system built into the guns magazine compartment. This pressurized system simulates gun recoil that occurs whenever a real firearm is shot.

Gerwig says that these systems can be very effective training tools, but they won’t give users the noise and recoil of a real gun. “You can build tremendous skill sets and muscle memory with fantastic accuracy on that training system, but I wouldn’t license someone to buy a firearm without live firearm training on a range,” he says.

Redeker agrees. “Is it going to replace a real gun? Of course not, but it’s a training aid to graduate users to a real gun,” he says. “We don’t see it as a replacement, but a supplement to the real experience. It’s a great tool to ease them into a real gun and they can practice and perfect their abilities with it before putting a real gun in their hands.”

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