Having the benefit of being on this earth for a fairly long time, I have had the opportunity to observe human behavior at its best and worst. There seems to be a paranoia cycle I have not yet quite figured out about government conspiracies. In the end they all seem to wind up with some faction or another stockpiling guns and ammunition. It is to the point now where it seems everyone has a cellar full of weapons and the ammo to feed them in case: 1. the aliens from out of space arrive; 2. The communists are going to invade; 3. the (name the race, political group, or religion) are going to overthrow the government; or, 4. some group is going to take your guns away.
Over the past ten years or so we have seen an unbelievable run on guns and ammunition to the point where the manufacturers of ammo have operated their plants seven days a week, 24 hours a day and can’t keep up with the demand. Although this demand for ammo started before President Obama was elected, it really came on full bore just after that. In December of 2012 alone there were 2.8 million background checks performed just after the Sandy Hook massacre. In an interview with Motley Pool,
Steve Hornady explained that “People walk into a store, they don’t see as much as they want so they take everything they can get. The next guy who comes in can’t get anything, so he panics. This shortage is purely a consumer driven shortage.”
It is hard to keep track of the actual number of shells sold each year in the United States as that information is not routinely gathered in any measurable form. However, we can track the excise tax that is paid on ammunition to the U.S. Department of the Interior because it is required under the Pittman-Robinson Act of 1937. That legislation was passed to help support land acquisition and other programs that benefit sportsmen throughout the country. Although it is not a perfect way to measure the number of shells produced it does give a sense of the scope of the issue. Also the prices jumped. For example a ,22 LR went from roughly 5 cents a shell to 12 cents.
In the year 2000 just the excise tax on shells alone generated $68 million dollars. By 2012 that figure had jumped to $207 million. It is important to measure that growth in relation to previous years. A quick review shows that the tax collections were pretty steady through the previous decade and a half. Around 2006 the numbers started to rise and then when President Obama was elected, rifle and ammo sales started to rocket upward based on the conspiracy theories that were floating around at the time. Then after Sandy Hook the sales just went out of sight. In 2007 the excise taxes on long guns, handguns and ammo was $308,805,000. In 2012 the tax revenue was more than double at $643,916,000.
There were rumors flying around that the United States government was buying up all of the ammunition to make it harder for civilians to buy. Many were convinced that the federal government was going to confiscate all of the weapons in the country or at least make it very difficult to purchase them. In fact, in one case the Federal Premium Ammunition company out of Anoka, Mn. felt it had to put out a press release to counter this rumor. In it they stated that the rumor that the Federal Government was “...buying excess quantities of ammunition, thereby restricting availability to the commercial market is a false and baseless claim. The Department of Homeland Security makes up a very small percentage of our total ammunition output....The current increase in demand is attributed to the civilian market.”
Hornady, Remington, Winchester and all of the other manufacturers reported similar demand from the consumer market, all fed on conspiracy theories and rumors. Sales of guns has just soared. For example, the number of conceal/carry permits has jumped from just under 1,000,000 in 1985 to over 6,800,000 in 2012. The arming of America over the past few years is alarming.
You would think that there would be an end to this run on guns and ammo. I mean, how many guns and shells can any one country consume? I would expect a bit of a slowdown over the next few months, as some are convinced our next President will be in favor of gun rights advocates. But history shows me that there will be another set of rumors, another batch of crazies telling us the world as we know it needs the protection of more individually held guns and ammo and another run will start. And, it is only a matter of time before another massacre will occur, another nut job will be convinced of some moral outrage and take it upon himself to kill another bunch of innocent folks. In the meantime the ammo companies will be churning out shell 24 hours a day, seven days a week to feed the seemingly insatiable demand.