Last month I related some of the causes of the ammunition shortage that has affected the entire firearms world, especially the law enforcement community. Whether for training or duty use, the available ammo supply simply is not adequate for the requirements of the many and varied agencies that go in harm's way every day. Although there are signs that things may be improving, it will probably take a while to get caught up and there is no reason to believe that this situation cannot happen again. Herewith are a few suggestions gleaned from conversations I had with ammunition company representatives at the recent SHOT Show. They may help you to move ahead, as well as prepare for the next time.
A lot of agencies were caught by surprise this time, even though the handwriting was on the wall. I was surprised and disappointed to find that even though most ammunition manufacturers have what they consider their law enforcement only products, they do not give any specific priority to them. Agencies, therefore, have to make sure that they are looking ahead and purchasing ammunition far ahead of their anticipated needs. Since those needs are generally very predictable, that shouldn't be too hard. In the past, however, agencies have budgeted their ammo purchases so their entire supply is received just before they actually need it. In the future, they need to buy in smaller increments, well ahead of time. Having ammunition stockpiled for at least a year in advance is essential. Delivery times during this shortage have shown that having to wait at least six to eight months for deliveries was a reality. We must get ahead of that. Waiting until a month before qualifications to order a dozen, or a hundred, cases of ammo just won't work. Accumulating a case or so at a time over the course of a year has a better chance of succeeding.
This may also require a shift in budgeting procedures. Each agency has to convince their money people that in order to take advantage of purchasing opportunities funds must be available at any time and not just on some predetermined budget schedule. Start buying now, even if it is in small amounts, and keep buying until you have enough to put you at least a year ahead of your needs. One thing that factory reps told me was that they could usually help find small amounts of ammo for their customers, but large bulk amounts were just not available.
Know Your Suppliers
Speaking of factory reps, each agency must get to know not only their LE ammo distributor, but their factory representative for the brands of ammo that they use. In most cases, the LE distributors have been in the same vice that has been squeezing the whole industry. They might be able to help and you certainly should have an excellent working relationship with them, but you need to cultivate a solid relationship with the factory reps, because they are the ones that can see the larger picture. Several told me that they could help find limited amounts of ammo for emergency needs and even have arranged deals between departments to swap or redirect the flow of orders to help solve some urgent needs. They just needed the agencies to contact them and be both reasonable and flexible with their requirements.
They can't pull stuff out of thin air, but they can see where product is sitting unused and may be able to help you work something out. I got the distinct impression from my contacts that they felt they were an under utilized resource, mainly because departments in their territories just didn't see the need to look beyond their current supplier/distributor. Too many agencies never talk with these folks until they are in a panic. Then, of course, it is too late. Also, don't forget that the factory representatives should be encouraged, pressured even, to have the manufacturers give priority to law enforcement ammunition production. If agencies do their part in purchasing wisely, the ammo companies should make sure that product is available.
Being flexible means several things. First of all, be flexible, as suggested earlier, in your purchasing schedule. Buy ammo in smaller amounts over time, not in bulk amounts once or twice a year. Start buying for a year or more in the future, not just for what you need next month. Buy whatever you can get, in whatever amounts and keep buying until you have a stockpile. If necessary, convince the bean counters that this is an emergency and you need the money to make the deals. Being flexible also means looking at the products you purchase and have acceptable alternatives.
Agencies and manufacturers have spent a lot of time doing ballistic workshops and other such testing, often encouraged by specific manufacturers, in order to establish their ammo specifications. Then, when the shortages hit, they find themselves painted into a corner, committed to their ideal choice that simply isn't available. We must get past that. There are lots of good products out there and you have to have acceptable alternate choices. For example, an agency that uses Brand X 180 grain .40 S&W ammo should be prepared to use Brand X’s 165 or 155 grain instead. Or they should be prepared to use similar ammo from Brand Y or Z. If you are insisting on soft point bullets for your 5.56/.223 rifles, you need to think about plain old Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) instead. There are no magic bullets, but there are plenty of excellent choices and agencies need to be prepared to make those decisions. Reps told me that insistence on one product and one product only has hurt many agencies. Again, talk to your factory representatives and heed their advice.
Use Other Alternatives
Simulated ammunition products are available and are an excellent alternative to live fire training. Force on force training is being recognized as more useful than simply punching holes in paper to meet a qualification standard. Punch holes we must, but now is the time to fill in the training gaps with some scenario based challenges. Simulators are becoming more and more sophisticated in their programs, and thus more realistic and responsive to training needs. They are also becoming simpler to operate and, in some cases, less expensive. You can even make your own movies to suit your training needs. With ammo being a problem, it seems like a good time to take advantage of the technology that has been growing by leaps and bounds. If you don't have, or can't afford such equipment, there are agencies, academies, regional training centers and even mobile systems that you should be able to share time using. Reach out to those sources and see what can be done without real ammo. There is some pretty amazing and really cool stuff out there. And I'm sure the people who make it would be more than happy to get you hooked on it while waiting for someone to deliver your next ammo order.
This ammo shortage will pass. We will climb out of the hole and move on. I can understand why people got caught short this time, but we must learn the lessons for the next time. Police training is a dynamic, evolving discipline, dedicated to the principle of helping people be their best and keeping them safe. If nothing else, this ammunition crisis should remind us that foresight and creativity are essential skills we must use in accomplishing our goals.