I got into guns after the 2008 election. Since then I have learned a great deal about the economics of the hobby. There are a lot of variables at play—what laws are likely to pass in your region, how the upcoming candidates are set V.S. gun control, how National and state congresses look to shake out, how many supreme court slots are coming up for nomination, and what events have recently spurred the second amendment debate. I would find the entire process fascinating if the future of one of my favorite activities did not hang in the balance.
The 2012 election was an exercise in chaos theory for the people of the gun. Obama, he of the clinging to guns and religion fame, had proven that gun control was high on his personal to-do-list. Romney was not a noted second amendment supporter either—a practical politician in his way but not exactly the bulwark candidate the gun community wanted. Rhetoric was heated, fears of national gun control were rampant, and shelves were empty of common ammunition types and platforms. Newtown and the Colorado movie shooting simply enhanced the 2a community’s belief that dark days lay ahead.
Although the media enjoys mocking the firearm related fearmongering that precedes National elections, the community’s fears were justified. In 1993, the Stockton school yard shooting resulted in the death of five elementary school students, the shooter, and the wounding of 28 other individuals. That event precipitated the 1994 Federal assault weapon ban—and Stockton occurred before the dawning of social media, the internet news cycle, and today’s deeply partisan politics. The1981 attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the 1933 attempt on FDR both lead to landmark restrictive firearm laws. The United States has a history of reactively legislating guns after National tragedies—and New Town was more than five times as deadly as the Stockton shooting. So while there was definitely a period of panic buying pre-election and post Newtown, that panic stemmed from multiple historical benchmarks.
Frankly, I hate panic buying. Heeding the call of the falling sky strikes me as the worst kind of group think. Giving into mass hysteria harkens far too close to a loss of reason for my taste. Gun owners have plenty of legitimate material to give them pause entering the 2016 election cycle without falling prey to chicken little syndrome. Between multiple large scale terrorist strikes in Europe, the San Bernardino and Orlando shootings, the wife of the president who signed the 1994 AWB carrying the Democrat’s torch, Republicans publicly working for a compromise bill on no fly-no buy, and the recent shooting of 11 Dallas police officers at a black lives matter protest, the 2016 election cycle looks primed for gun control to become a defining issue. More broadly, democrats have seaced to view gun control as the electrified third rail of politics. California just passed a Pandora’s box of restrictive firearm related legislation in a state that already boasted one of the strongest anti-gun pedigrees. Heller and McDonald have been tempered by the Supreme court’s inability/unwillingness to clarify issues such as may issue concealed carry, assault weapons bans, and restrictive firearm ownership requirements. It seems unlikely that the 8 member Roberts court will strike a blow in favor of gun rights before they get their ninth justice—and depending on how the election goes not even then. Fear is not my goal. There is a cycle to these things—I just want people to make informed decisions in times of crisis.
As the song says, “to everything there is a season.” The cycle starts around July during presidential campaign years. Common ammunition begins to rise in cost. Bulk deals sell out quickly. Popular platforms—especially semiautomatic rifles and magazines—are harder to find. September—after the conventions are done and the attack adds ramp up—is when prices start to skyrocket. The panic starts. People lose their minds. In November—forget it. Popular military calibers—9mm, .45acp, .223, and .308—can only be had at gold plated prices when available at all. You can still find self-defense ammunition but cheap range ammunition is a thing of the past. Popular recreational calibers like .357 and .22lr simply cannot be found. Reloading supplies like powder and primers vanish. Suppliers buy out any excess market capacity. Hoarders buy up everything—and I do mean everything. Market momentum and scarcity keeps the storm going well into the following summer. Two years later—as the midterms are cranking up—most ammunition types and supplies can be had if not cheaply. Three years later and prices and suppliers are down to desirable levels again—just in time for the next National panic.
So in no particular order, here are my suggestions for the upcoming ammunition desert:
1. If your state is going to outlaw something, buy it now. Even if you don’t get to shoot for a while, better to have the rifle, handgun, or magazine you want.
2. Even if you have to split the cost with someone else, buy at least a thousand rounds of handgun or 500 rounds of rifle ammunition for your favorite firearms—more depending on how often and in what volume you expend gun food.
3. The preferred order of purchase should be platform—magazines (at least 6)—and finally ammunition.
4. There is no substitute for a handgun or rifle and a couple thousand rounds of .22lr. The cost per round is low enough that you can stock upwards of 5,000 rounds for less than $500.
5. There is a saying in banking, the best time to start saving was yesterday. The second best day is today. Buy it cheap and stack it deep.
You do not have to buy in fear. Ammunition prices and supply will normalize eventually. Buy smarter. Buy defensively if you have to but do so with full knowledge of your options. Your wallet will thank you—as may your range partners when you are the only one with gun food in 2017.