A national ammunition shortage has created problems at the local level for law enforcement agencies.
In Prattville, the police department has had to delay officers' qualifying tests until more ammunition is delivered, Chief Mark Thompson said.
"We have enough ammunition on hand to qualify, but we would have been left with very few rounds remaining if we did qualify," he said.
Ammunition ordered several months ago is finally starting to come in, and Thompson expects qualifying to take place in May.
"We ordered more ammunition than we usually do this time," he said. "We want to build up a supply, so we don't have to deal with this problem again."
Ammunition manufacturers are running at capacity, trying to meet demand, said Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The NSSF is a trade organization with its headquarters in Newtown, Conn.
"The shortage of ammunition is consumer driven," he said. "Using background-check information, we have seen sales of firearms in the country increase each month for the past 34 months. People are buying more guns, so they are buying more ammunition."
Political and other factors also play a role in the run on bullets. Several national media outlets have reported that ammunition demand has gone up during the debate over more gun-control legislation and following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Bazinet said the NSSF doesn't comment on political forces at play.
"I will say that consumer concerns about access tend to drive up demand," he said. "We are receiving reports from manufacturers and retailers that the shortage may be easing somewhat. We may see availability of ammunition improve in the coming weeks."
Despite the shortage, officers aren't going around with empty handguns on their hips. That's because getting duty rounds hasn't been a problem. Duty rounds are hollow-point expanding bullets. Practice rounds are full metal jacket, or non-expanding, bullets.
Alabama law requires sworn officers to qualify with their weapons a minimum of once a year. That goes for everyone in the department, from the chief down to the newest rookie. Officers must qualify annually with their handguns and any long gun they carry on duty, such as a shotgun or patrol rifle.
Locally, larger law enforcement departments with bigger budgets seem to be weathering the dearth of ammo better than smaller departments.
The Montgomery Police Department, with about 500 sworn officers, keeps a three-year supply of ammunition on hand, said Lt. Regina Duckett, spokeswoman for the MPD. The department held its annual qualifying last week.
The department typically orders 300 cases of .40-caliber practice ammo, at 500 rounds per case, and 100 rounds of .40-caliber duty ammo per year. The department also orders 150 cases, at 500 rounds a case, of .223-caliber rifle ammunition, she said.
"So far, we haven't had any problems," Duckett said. "We order a bulk amount of ammo every year, and we usually order more than we need, so that we will have plenty on hand in the event we have to deal with anything like what is currently going on with the ammo shortages.
"Our last order was before Sandy Hook. After this round of qualifying we will place another order. We may see delays in delivery, but we have enough on hand that it won't affect us."
Complicating matters is the fact that ammunition used by law enforcement — .40-caliber and .45-caliber for handguns, 9mm for handguns and submachine guns, 12-gauge shells for shotguns and .223-caliber for rifles — is also popular with civilians.
In Selma, the police department was scrambling to get enough ammunition for its qualifying, which is set to begin Tuesday. The final orders the department placed about six months ago were delivered this past week, so qualifying could go forward, said Lt. John Brock, chief firearms instructor for the Selma Police Department.
The Elmore County Sheriff's Office qualifies once a year but conducts some type of firearms training every three months, said Chief Deputy Ricky Lowery. The scarcity of ammunition means there are times deputies in Elmore County do not fire their handguns during quarterly training.
The Autauga County Sheriff's Office typically qualifies in the fall. The office ordered five 500-round cases of .40-caliber ammunition in February, said Chief Deputy Joe Sedinger. The office has about 36 officers qualify each year.
"We ordered earlier this year than we usually do because of the shortage," he said. "Even with ordering early, our supplier said expect a wait of three to six months for delivery."