Econ 919 — At a gun store in Soldotna, national news boosts local sales

When there’s a big national news cycle, Michael Modrell knows it.

Not just from the Google alerts he receives via email or the news he sees on his phone. But also of the trade of his store.

“Any time anything is going on with Congress or the Supreme Court or gun control comes up, people always come up and talk about it,” he said.

Modrell manages Soldotna Munitions on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

He said that whenever there was unrest or something big in the news in the Lower 48 — even if there was little or no direct connection to Alaska — people would come. and began to store.

This is especially true when there is news related to gun control. Last week, Congress passed a gun law, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which improves youth background checks and funds risk prevention programs, among other measures.

“Gun control always makes people feel like it’s time to hurry up and buy those things they’re worried they won’t be able to get later in the year,” Modrell said.

But he said the spikes in activity aren’t exclusive to conversations about gun control.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade last week, customers from all political backgrounds came to buy supplies and talk politics. This was also true in 2020 and 2021, during elections and Black Lives Matter protests.

“It doesn’t matter if it even happens in our community,” Modrell said. “It’s just that people are scared of this happening in our country. They think it’s time to stock up on anything.”

Modrell said some patrons are concerned about their personal safety when riots occur in the Lower 48.

But he said buyers were stocking up largely because they were worried about the continued ammunition shortage that has plagued gun supply stores across the country. And they think any sort of unrest or chaos in the Lower 48 could make that shortage worse.

Industry watchers say ammunition is still having an impact on supply, although less than in 2020.

This shortage started in 2020 is due to a combination of national unrest and production setback.

Modrell said the shortage has improved as sellers and buyers have caught up with pent-up demand. Still, it’s not fully resolved. In his store on Wednesday, there were rows of empty shelves where there would normally be piles and piles of boxes.

And, much like the toilet paper crisis at the start of the pandemic, panic buying is only making the problem worse.

“It always causes a bit of a panic,” Modrell said. “And we benefit from that financially. But we try not to encourage it, because a panicked clientele is useless.”

Customer Steve Milliron comes to the store two or three times a week to check on new inventory. It’s not far from his house and he knows the guys at the store.

He noticed the ammunition shortage. He said he fired less to save ammo when he was at his peak.

“And so what I think that pushes me to do is just try to conserve probably more ammo than before,” Milliron said. “And I always try to replace what I shoot.”

When something pops up, he said, he might be more likely to get in because things aren’t always available. And he thinks his friends do pretty much the same thing.

“Not so much hoarding, but just because you don’t know when you can find it,” he said. “And sometimes a few boxes of things will pop up, just randomly, and you’ll be like, ‘Oh, I could use that.’ and you get it and you don’t see it again for months, so it’s a good thing you did.

It’s not just recreational gun owners like Milliron driving sales.

Soldotna Ammo sells supplies to subsistence hunters in rural Alaska. And Modrell said those fighters were also stocking up – buying more supplies at once in case the ammunition ran into another supply chain issue.

“I planned on trying to go to Bethel and Mountain Village and a few of those to see what it was like there,” Modrell said. “I know the prices they charge now are much higher because a lot of them, like a lot of companies, make a percentage of what they pay. And the cost of ammunition is more expensive now, shipping there cost more now There is a hazmat fee that we didn’t used to have.

But not everyone buys. Some people just want to see what other gun owners think.

Modrell pointed to a customer on the security camera, who was browsing a storefront. He said he came almost every day, although he rarely bought anything.

“People are spending more time in the store, even though they’re shopping less,” Modrell said. “Because they want to talk about everything that happened.”

As long as people feel like there’s big things happening nationwide, it’s not sure the traffic will stop anytime soon.

Maria R. Newman