Which brings me to my trip to Wal-Mart tonight. One of the boys stretched out on the sofa, disturbing a dog, which decided my laptop keyboard would make an acceptable pillow. I didn't have the heart to re-arrange the poor beast and I was about done catching up on e-mail, so I decided to scoot over to Wal Mart in search of one of those rubberized cell phone cases. Well, they must have had 50 or sixty different types of cases for the iphone, but not a one of them for the nice little Samsung I just bought from the same stupid Wal-Mart this week. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by this world of digital wonders that everyone a bit younger or hipper than me seems unaccountably familiar with, I went in search of the one part of the store that I always at least understand -- sporting goods.
And having arrived in the sporting goods section, I took a nice cleansing breath as I walked through an aisle forested with festively-colored fishing rods, then swung around an end display to find myself face to face with a pitifully thin stock of ammunition in a locked glass case. No pistol ammunition of any kind. No rimfire ammo. No large gauge shotgun shells. A sign taped to the glass announced that there was a three box limit on ammuntion sales, due to short supply. And that was generous. The other Wal-Mart in town has a two-box limit. There was a decent selection of .410 shotgun shells (amazing, given the popularity of the Taurus Judge revolvers), and an ecclectic collection of high powered rifle ammunition. I've owned a lot of guns over the years, but aside from the .410 shells, the only thing they had that i've ever fired in my life was a single box of expensive match grade .30-06. Aside from that, all they had was a bit of 7mm Rem, .243 Win, .300 WSM, and some .300 Savage (they must have been feeling desperate when they decided to stock that last one).
So, for the time being the easiest guns to buy ammo for are actually the oddball chamberings that were always very slow sellers due to the low numbers of guns in circulation firing them, and, or, owing to the shooting habits of those who own such guns. This is ammo for the kind of hunting rifles and shotguns that the typical owner has never bothered keeping more than a couple of boxes of ammo for. But if you want to do some shooting today, you'll be lucky to have one of those guns on hand. Otherwise, you're stuck with the ammo you've got, pretty much. That, or you're going to pay a premium for it. Or so it would seem to the loyal Wal-Mart shopper who hasn't fully discovered the wonderful world of online shopping.
I was on Midway USA's website earlier in the evening, buying some components for the fin stabilized smoothbore projectile project, and decided to have a look at availability of some of the products that have been badly squeezed by the gun buyer panic. The good news is that Midway does have .40 S&W, .357 Mag and .45 ACP in stock at reasonable prices -- and even a selection within those chamberings. Bad news is that 9X19 is still totally sold out. The pattern, overall, was a less extreme echo of what I saw at Wal-Mart. The really common cartridges are either totally sold out or available only in some of their more expensive and esoteric forms. It was, however, good to see the .40 S&W. That's a very popular defensive chambering.
Bad news for reloaders, though. Midway only had one single type of primer available -- a type of shotshell primer intended for use in blackpowder guns. For the reloader, this is mind-bending. It's as if you went to the biggest car lot in town with a nice fat loan approval and all they had left were a few mopeds that ran on used vegetable oil. And for anyone out there who read my earlier post touching on the joy that Russian munitions plant managers must be feeling right now -- Midway has notices posted that they've got primers on the way -- from Tulammo (In Izhevsk, if memory serves). I expect them to sell out very, very quickly. In fact, I probably won't even try to catch them when they come in, as I've got enough primers on hand to limp along for a while.
In all of this, I see a general pattern that's worth noting. The types of arms and munitions that have been sucked out of the supply chain to the greatest and most persistent degree are common. You might say they're a kind of de-facto standard among the common militia here in the US. Nobody has formalized a standard (though we probably should), but a standard has nonetheless been adopted. And not surprisingly, that standard is a mirror image of US military standards. 9mm, 5.56 and 7.62 NATO are the big sellers. That's the US military standard for pistols, medium power rifles and high power rifles (and medium machine guns). And what this tells me, in part, is that this ammo buyout is being driven very sharply by anxiety among shooters who are primarily concerned with personal, local, and national defense -- all across the nation.
If I'm right about this question of who's doing the heavy purchasing and sucking ammo out of inventory, then gun prohibitionists are making a big mistake if they think they're addressing this crowd when they tell reassuring lies about wanting to protect sportsmen's access to sporting arms and ammunition. The hunters and skeet shooters aren't the ones who are worried to begin with. it's the folks who genuinely care about militia rights and responsibilities who are freaked out, and they're not going to buy any arguments that gun control advocates just want "reasonable" restrictions. That's what they told the Brits, and now the UK has stricter gun laws than Stalinist Russia (and I know, because I've been to Russia twice and have talked to people who survived those years).
Which is all kind of a shame for a number of reasons -- including the fact that we do need a reasonable legal framework when it comes to the way we handle deadly weapons.
I really think that a lot of the problem is tied up in simple, fundamental misconceptions surrounding the Second Amendment itself. I heard a guy on NPR the other day who was asking why the first half of the 2nd amendment is ignored by gun rights advocates. Well, it's not. But for him the words "well regulated militia" seemed to equate to something I'll paraphrase roughly as "a tightly-controlled military reserve." This is a common but unfortunate misunderstanding -- and one I suspect is often left in a state of confusion by those in the media and academia who should know better but might prefer not to disturb an ignorance that seems to fit their purposes.
The language of the 2nd Amendment is very specific and concise. It's also a bit formal and peculiar to its historical context. Expanded a bit and put into more modern language, the 2nd Amendment would read something like this:
"Because a free and just civilization cannot be maintained without a properly armed and well skilled general public, the fundamental human right of the private individual to keep and carry weapons shall not be limited in even the slightest degree."
That's what the 2nd Amendment meant to the men who wrote it, ratified it, and lived by it. Nowhere is there any prohibition against private ownership or use of heavy artillery, warships, explosive rockets, volley guns, grenades, fortifications, cavalry horses, or any of the other potent weapons of war known to man at that time. Theodore Roosevelt knew this. His Rough Riders were the first to field genuine machine guns in US military service, and they brought their own privately purchased arms and equipment to that fight. Their weapons were not government issue -- and those Colt 1895 machine guns were very, very expensive and universally-feared weapons.
Do we really want to get all the way to the other side of this arguement? Do we really want to face the fact that the 2nd amendment says that primacy of arms belongs not to the formal military, but to the individual? Do we really want to talk about the fact that, so far as the Constitution is concerned, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons cannot be legally denied to private citizens? Of course, the nation is not going to go to such extremes. But you know what -- I'd be willing to bet that if we told the military they had one year to destroy any and all weapons they were not willing to see on the private market, we'd be rid of our own weapons of mass destruction real quick. And if that was a global standard -- we'd be rid of them globally as well. And maybe that'd be a good move -- because the sad truth is that governments can't really be trusted to exercise good moral judgement any more than the average citizen, and when governments go bad they don't just kill a couple of dozen kids in a school yard. They kill millions. Ten year anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq this week. And you know what almost every key player interviewed is saying -- it was a stupid mistake. And these are the people we're supposed to believe deserve, or even have a right to be trusted with arms to the exclusion of private citizens? Even after Vietnam? Are they joking?
Just a little something to chew on. Obviously, we're very far from being able to respectfully thrash out questions like this in public discourse, but if you've made the effort to read this blog, perhaps you'll find something worth considering in it.