Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Keith Halladay: The Present Ammunition Shortage -- An Observation

The present ammunition shortage: an observation
By Keith Halladay
North of Center

The CCI 22 Long Rifle “Stinger” round leaves a rifle muzzle, according to the manufacturer, at 1640 feet per second, making it one of the fastest 22-caliber bullets available. Since a good part of the fun of shooting is trying new loads, in early January I took a bit of Christmas money, logged into my account at the Cabela’s online store, and began to place an order for 500 rounds of the stuff.

As I clicked through the checkout screens a message appeared to inform me that the Stingers were on backorder, and that Cabela’s was expecting a fresh shipment on March 15. “Eh,” I thought, “don’t need it now,” and I placed the order anyway.

The appointed day arrived, and while slogging through the morning email I logged back in to Cabela’s to see if my ammo had been shipped. It had not. In fact, a new message had replaced the old one: “This item is backordered. Estimate 8-9 weeks for delivery.” Confused, I called the company and spoke to a representative who told me that indeed the new shipment had arrived, but that it was of insufficient quantity to satisfy all the outstanding orders.

Now, this is 22 ammo. It’s fancy and comes in a hard plastic box instead of the mini-milk jug of bulk plinking rounds, but it’s still 22 ammo. Some rifle cartridges are tough to find, sure, but these rounds are produced by the billions, and yet were subject to multiple backorders at not only Cabela’s but all the major online retailers.

So the next day I called my gun-nut friend, who stays current with paramilitary-oriented web sites and those sorts of things, and asked, exasperated, “who in Great Caesar’s ghost is buying up all the 22 ammo?”

He chortled. “It’s Obama, man! The rednecks are buying up all the ammunition because they think he’s gonna take their guns!”

“But it’s 22 ammo,” I cried. “What do they think they’re gonna do with a bleeping 22 if they come in with tanks and helicopters?”

“I think they think that they have to get it while they still can,” he replied. “It happens every time a Democrat is elected—the rednecks buy up all the ammo and there are massive shortages. That’s why prices are so high too.”

Now, it should be noted that there are competing theories about the real cause of the present shortage. One might think, for instance, that the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have hampered some manufacturers’ abilities to provide for both military and retail consumers. Yet this cannot be the case, for the two rifle calibers most used by the U.S. armed forces, the 5.56 and 7.62 NATO cartridges, are among the easiest to find both online and in brick-and-mortar outlets. Another possibility, one especially popular among weapon hoarders, is that the government is deliberately restricting the manufacture and sale of ammunition and cartridge primers (the cap-like thing on the end of a cartridge that, when struck by the gun’s hammer, detonates the gunpowder). The idea here is that Obama (and the United Nations, in most versions), knowing outright firearms confiscation would be a tough go, figure that if there’s no ammo, then mission accomplished.

An intriguing argument to be sure, but one that, like most nutty right-wing conspiracy theories, doesn’t hold water. That we’ve been in the midst of a nationwide shortage of most types of ammunition is clear; for months the shelves at the local Wal-Marts have been nearly barren of anything but a few scattered boxes of the less-popular calibers. But it’s no conspiracy—just a whole bunch of folks buying a whole bunch of bullets, and manufacturers are struggling to keep pace. The latest Cabela’s catalog carries a bold-print notice about “unprecedented demand” and “limited availability.” And Hornady, another ammunition manufacturer, on its web site claims that they are “breaking their own production records in an attempt to keep up with customer demand.”

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