Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 12, 2014

Scout Report: Where has all the .22 ammunition gone?

By Clinton Gill
Glade Sun editor

CROSSVILLE — Some of my fondest childhood memories are learning how to shoot with my grandpa. When I was only knee-high, he taught me how to use an old Winchester Model 60, which is a single-shot bolt action .22 caliber rifle. For those who are unfamiliar with guns, .22 Long Rifle is the most popular caliber round ever made. It's the cheapest bullet to shoot, there is no kick, and the noise they make is similar to a firecracker. It’s the perfect round for beginners to learn the fundamentals of shooting.

My grandpa was a crack shot. He could strike a match at 10 yards using only iron sights. While we practiced with rifles, the real lessons he was teaching were about life. I grew up with a passion for shooting that has carried over into adulthood, as have the life lessons about independence, respect and personal responsibility.

On weekends, I moonlight selling guns at Outdoor Junction in Cookeville. Of course, I tend to spend more money than I make working there, but I enjoy fostering new enthusiasts into the fold. I especially enjoy helping the women who come in, most of whom are initially intimidated at the prospect of gun ownership. As the old saying goes "God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal." That is especially true for women. I find it very rewarding to see them become empowered with the sense of independence that the ability to defend themselves affords. 

Generally speaking, women make excellent shooters, once they overcome their initial fear of firearms. In fact, women will often become better shots than their significant others, which is both a point of pride and embarrassment for the men. However, in order to become proficient, they have to learn the fundamentals, and they have to practice.

For some reason, a lot of husbands and fathers try to introduce the ladies in their life to shooting with .38 caliber revolvers. While this is an excellent choice for personal protection, its not pleasant for most beginners to shoot. If you can't hit what you're aiming at, it doesn't matter how big the bullet is, and if you don't enjoy shooting, you're not going to become proficient. The best way I've found to teach someone is to start with .22LR and work up through bigger calibers. The more a person shoots, the more they become accustomed to the recoil and noise, which allows them to shoot larger calibers more comfortably and confidently.  

In today’s society, guns have become highly stigmatized. The current administration has tried to use highly publicized tragedies to propel a long-existing agenda. And it’s worked, to some extent. Despite the fact that gun-related homicides are down by nearly 50 percent from 20 years ago, people are afraid of guns. Sadly, we live in a time when far too many of our fellow citizens would gladly surrender freedom for temporary security.

As the administration has discovered though, fear is a two-way street. After Sandy Hook and the subsequent threat of stricter regulation, gun sales shot through the roof. Fearing a gun ban, consumers raced to purchase AR-15s and other semi-automatic modern sporting rifles. (By the way, the "AR" stands for “ArmaLite Rifle,” not “Assault Rifle.” ArmaLite was the company that pioneered the design in the early 1960’s). As availability of these rifles dwindled, prices on the street tripled. After that, people began to take Joe Biden’s advice and tactical shotguns became hard to find. Then they came in droves for carry-sized handguns and revolvers.

Guns, however, are not much use without ammunition. Mirroring the sales trends, ammo for the firearms in high demand became hard to find. Manufacturers struggled to keep up with the rush for the hottest calibers. They shifted production from rifle cartridges to concentrate on handgun calibers and ran their presses around the clock. This resulted in a shortage of popular hunting rounds in the fall and, in turn, led to a shortage of reloading supplies. People started hoarding whatever they could find.

Today, most calibers are getting back to pre-2013 levels. However, one burning question remains: “Do you have any .22 Long Rifle?” Everybody wants it, they buy as much as they can when they find it, and yet they can’t understand why it’s so hard to find.   

Aside from the obvious fact that everyone is hoarding it, here’s my take on what's happening: When supplies get low and demand is high, distributors take care of their biggest clients first. Wal-mart and other big box stores get the vast majority of cheap .22LRs in such a time. Scalpers wait for delivery trucks to pull up at these stores and snatch up everything they can to sell “on the street." They easily get around any per person limits by bringing everyone in their family. By controlling the supply, these individuals create an artificial demand, allowing them to sell the product for three to five times what they paid for it. Before the panic, it was easy to find boxes of 525 rounds in stores for around $20; now, if you can even find it in such quantities, it’s $60 to $100.

I can hardly blame them – in tough economic times, people do whatever they can to get by. However, unless something changes, I fear there will be long-lasting negative consequences. The price and scarcity of ammo has translated into fewer people shooting, which in turn hinders the next generation from learning about firearms. The people who fear guns most are the ones who have never been around them. They also happen to be the ones who, by and large, support more restrictions. I feel this opportunism is short-sighted and will eventually cannibalize support for the Second Amendment if it continues.

Let me be clear though, I'm not suggesting legislative action be taken. The United States was founded as a nation of liberty, wherein its citizens were expected to self-regulate and conduct their own affairs with minimal government mediation. I would expect Second Amendment supporters to respect that principle more than any other group. Besides, any government cure would undoubtedly be worse than the ailment.

If people continue hoarding and profiteering, this situation will eventually resolve itself according to the laws of supply and demand. Either manufacturers will step up production and flood the market with cheap ammo, or people will stop shooting as much. Unfortunately, the profit margin on .22LR is not very high and flooding the market would create a bubble, which means companies aren't likely to make it a priority. That puts the onus on our fellow citizens to self-regulate.

As my grandpa taught me, there is a great lesson about freedom in the striking of a match – it ignites the flame of independence. But if these lessons aren't passed on, our rights will eventually be extinguished. 

To quote Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”