Peak Bullets: the Weirdest Shortage of them All

(Photo by Mojave Desert/Flickr)

Once, this is what you bought for a buck to deal with rats. Now it’s a priceless commodity? (Photo by Mojave Desert/Flickr)

During the past six years or so, I have had occasion from time to time to go into a WalMart, or a Gander Mountain store, or  some other sporting goods establishment, wherein I have asked the question: “Do you have any .22 caliber ammunition?” On every occasion, the answer has been “No.” Each time I asked, “When are you going to get some in?” and was told, “Don’t know.” If I went even further and asked, “When was the last time you had some in stock?’ the answer was along the lines of, “Three months ago, on a Monday morning, for about 15 minutes.” I thought it was odd, the first few times it happened. Then I found out the same thing was happening all across the country. And was going on for year after year, and that weirded me out.

As you see, it took a long time for this thing to dawn on me, because my need for ammunition is not great. I occasionally exercise my Second Amendment rights on an especially obnoxious groundhog, or a chicken-killer, and once a year I use hunting season as cover for a week-long, rustic debauch with my male friends and descendants. Part of that cover is an ostentatious supply of 30-30 shells, but the same half-dozen rounds have been fulfilling that purpose since about 1990. The fact that after six years of trying without success to buy some .22 shells, I have still not run out, or even short, will tell you how great is my need.

Still, one likes to know what is going on, so starting about five years ago I started asking the sellers: “What is going on?” The first answer was, “Well, you know, Obama is coming for our guns.”

Wait. He’s coming for our .22’s?? Our tin-can plinkers? What does he want with them? Why would he pass up our Kalashnikovs and AR-15s and surface-to-air missile launchers and grab our varmint rifles? Okay, never mind, let’s say he is after them, wouldn’t the appropriate response be to hoard the rifles, not the ammunition? There has been in this time period no shortage whatsoever of .22 caliber rifles and pistols.

A few years passed, and Obama coming for our guns turned into a zen-like concept, a thing like the horizon, which you can forever approach but never reach. For six years now, Obama, with the full powers of the presidency at his disposal, has been coming for our guns but has not so far arrived at a single gun. Either somebody misread his intent, or he’s even more incompetent than George Will thinks he is.

Another explanation I was offered was that Obama, that wily devil, realizing that he’d have to pry the weapons from cold, dead hands, came for the ammo instead. And he specified .22 ammo why? Well, you know, he’s a Kenyan community organizer, what does he know. Then there was this variant: the Department of Homeland Security, aka Department of Jack-Booted Thugs, is buying all the ammunition there is for its army of oppression. This, you can look up. And even the magazine of the National Rifle Association debunked it.

Well into Obama’s second term, the explanation offered for the continuing absence of .22 ammunition from stores changed: “It’s the survivalists. Getting ready for TEOTWAKI — the end of the world as we know it.”

Okay, that made more sense. For about 30 seconds. Sure, on the other side of the crash of the industrial world we will need to be able to hunt, and to defend ourselves, so stocking up on ammunition made sense. Until I remembered that I have never found a store to be out of 30-30, or .308, or any other common hunting ammo, nor of .38 or 9mm or .357 or any of the other calibers commonly favored for self-defense. Are these guys all planning to live on rabbit? And fight World Wars Three through Five with single-shot varmint guns?

Moreover, there are enough survivalists of that peculiar state of mind to maintain a nationwide, industry-wide shortage for six years? In 2013, the manufacturers put out 10 billion cartridges of all kinds. Cornering the market on even a segment of that industry would be no small feat.

The last time I asked — yesterday — I got a new twist on the answer. It’s the survivalists, I was told, but they aren’t planning to use the bullets in their guns, they plan to use them as currency – a valuable trade item in a dystopian world. The bitcoin of the post-apocalyptic age. The clever devil who explained that to the gun-store clerk boasted of having 30,000 rounds in his basement.

“As our situation is new,” said Abraham Lincoln, “we must think anew, and act anew.” I don’t think this is what he meant.

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7 Responses to Peak Bullets: the Weirdest Shortage of them All

  1. Rob Rhodes says:

    “Can you break a 30-30 for me?”

    “Sure, will five .22s and a dozen pellets do?”

  2. Leon says:

    It’s back: It’s not as cheap as it used to be (and it never will be) but it’s back.

    The explanation that I think makes the most sense is that during the total ammo shortage created a few years ago by combination of “The end is near!” paranoia and zero overhead zero over-capacity super efficient industry model, ammo manufacturers stopped making cheaper rounds and used the capacity they had to produce as much high profit margin caliber ammo as possible, while they were flying off the shelves. From the order in which different calibers re-appeared that seems to be true.

  3. bill says:

    well to add to this I was told a few years back that ammo in general was short to the public due to wars, and lead cell batteries. Both of which are in greater need/demand. who really knows? Maybe .22s are in short supply because rim fires are harder to trace, in forensics.

  4. Northwest Resident says:

    I asked the gun store employee why they never had any .22 long rifle ammo. His answer is that people are buying it as soon as it shows up, stockpiling it, preparing for TEOTWAWKI. He says it tends to be the same large group of individuals over time that know when the shipments arrive and either don’t work or find time to take off work so they can be there when the shipment arrives. But they buy it up as soon as it hits the shelves. I’m sure that every gun/ammo store has the same group of dedicated hoarders. Never forget that America’s population has a fairly large number of low IQ nuts, so just because it doesn’t make any sense at all is no reason that a large percent of American’s won’t do it, and with gusto.

    • colinc says:

      Almost ROTFLMAO! :)) So true, so true!

      No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” – H.L. Mencken

      Or, as I have stated it for more than a few years…

      In a country allegedly governed by ‘the masses,’ what happens when ‘the masses’ are ignorant, ill-informed AND irrational? Do you think we are witnessing those effects NOW?

  5. talewis says:

    If you’re looking for your comment here and don’t see it, check the following: 1) Did you provide a legitimate email address, as required, or make up a cute one? 2) Is your comment laced with gratuitous obscenities and vulgarities? No thanks.

  6. Joe Mertens says:

    There is also the closing of the last lead refinery in the USA and as for Obama coming for the guns if you paid attention to the proposed legislation of the time thy are making efforts to do just that violating the Grandfathering principal than you have other incidences like in Connecticut were they made 350,000 citizens felonious criminals for not re-registering their weapons the government “Could” chose to enforce that law and go after gun owners but for whatever reason they have not done so yet.
    Simply saying it can’t happen or never will ignores historical precedents of such incidences occurring.