It was either late 2008 or the start of 2009 when a co-worker at The State mentioned that he’d had trouble laying his hands on buckshot, and that the shopkeepers he’d talked to said this started to happen at about the time of the election. It’s been so long that I forget whether he said that it was just before the election or just after that the run on ammunition started. But I do remember he said you could get birdshot; the problem was with the deadlier stuff that you’d need to take down a deer — or a man.

It was sometime after that that I noticed at a local Wal-Mart that the case where ammunition of all kinds was locked behind glass was mostly empty. Looking more closely, I saw none of the usual pistol stuff (.38-cal., 9 mm). In fact, all I saw was shotgun shells with the smaller sort of shot.

I filed this away as interesting, even ominous. And I figured I would write something about it once it became better documented and the fact was established. I assumed I’d see news stories about it soon. (As you know, in my former position I had nothing to do with news or decisions on what to cover; I was kept as separate from that as I was from advertising. Like you, I saw things in the paper when I saw them.) Then I forgot about it. I was pretty busy in those days.

So when I saw it on the front page of The State today, I sort of went “Wow,” on a couple of levels. First, that it took this long to make news, and second, that there was still a shortage.

Back when I first heard about it, I didn’t know what I wanted to say about it. Some things popped into my head, of course. One of the first was my memory of being in South Carolina when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. I remember knowing at least one very nice white person who had never owned a gun before going out and buying one, because of fear of what might happen next. And I heard of others. I didn’t want to think this was related to that, but it did pop into my head.

Another was that Barack Obama had inspired some fairly weird Internet conspiracy theories. You know, like the one that he’s not really a citizen. I hadn’t attached importance to that — after all, the man was elected — but it popped into my head that there was something going on in the dank underbelly of the American psyche. Everything might be fine on the conscious level, but maybe some things were brewing down in the more reptilian parts of our collective brain.

But I set it aside. We had lots of other stuff to think about, what with the economy collapsing around us, and all the debates over what to do about it. The stimulus, for instance, was about as unemotional and bloodless, colorless subject as you were likely to find; it was not something to inspire dark dreams of violence.

Now that the ammunition story is documented and verified and duly reported, it comes at a time when we have additional information, and this colors our perception. We’ve seen that a lot of people are really, REALLY emotional about this president and his policies. I mean, we’ve had a lot of heated debates about health care in this country in the past, but even when it involved the polarizing figure of Hillary Clinton, people didn’t get THIS stirred up. Harry and Louise and the rest of the insurance industry’s allies simply deep-sixed reform, and it went away for 15 years.

But the last couple of months have been … weird. You might expect a guy like me, who has griped for years about our health care situation and finds himself paying $600 a month for COBRA, with the prospect of it going up to $1,200 or even $1,500 very soon) would be emotional about it, but I’m Lake Placid compared to the people who DON’T WANT reform. “Death panels.” Old folks absurdlyObama Joker Poster Popping Up In Los Angeles demanding that the gummint stay out of their Medicare. People showing up in crowds with automatic weapons. An otherwise mild-mannered congressman yelling “You lie!” at the president during what I thought was a fairly ho-hum speech. Then there’s the truly disturbing “Joker” posters. (I thought Democrats really went overboard with hating Bush, but this plumbed new depths.)

Against that background, a run on ammunition sounds really ominous.

The sunniest interpretation you can put on this phenomenon is that when the economy is collapsing, people naturally fear our devolving into a state of nature, and naturally want to arm themselves. Under that interpretation, we’d have run out of ammo whether Obama or McCain had been elected.

But there’s this other thing going on, and it has to do with some fairly unpleasant things rattling around in our collective subconscious. Some people have tried to give it a simple name, saying it’s about race. But it’s more complicated than that. Just as scary and ugly perhaps, and entangled somehow with race, but more complicated.

And frankly, I’m still not sure what to think of it.

13 thoughts on “Ammo!

  1. Brad Warthen

    And if you really want to worry about this, think of it this way: Who do you think was at the front of the line buying up all the ammo when the run on gunshops began?

    Hint: It probably wasn’t the sweetest, most reasonable people you know…

  2. Lee Muller

    These honest, patriotic Americans aren’t buy guns an ammunition so they can hand it over to some illegal gun control cops.

    Barack Obama is an unrepentant socialist revolutionary, hell bent on destroying as many industries as he can. He ran on the Socialist Party ticket, was raised by communist parents and grandparents, and his entourage is filled with communists, socialists, and terrorists.

    87 members of the Democratic Party are also members of international socialist groups which are dedicated to a world socialist government.

    Obama has repeatedly said he wants to create a “civilian defense force, as well equipped as our military”. For what purpose?

    No one with any brains wants to be like the Jews under Hitler.

  3. Lee Muller

    You should have seen the lines outside gun stores after the Rodney King riots.

    People are not arming themselves to attack anyone. They are arming for their Right of Self Defense.

    They see economic collapse being created by those in power. They have seen what happens when the rabble, told they are entitled to this and that, decide to go looting in other cities.

  4. Brad Warthen

    Case in point… How is it that a guy as cool and unemotional, as low-key, as Barack Obama, could inspire comparisons to Hitler, or the Joker — and not the amusing Joker of Cesar Romero but the really sick and twisted one portrayed by the young man who died of a drug overdose just after the movie was filmed?

    I mean, do these people think to themselves, “What’s the thing that Obama is LEAST like, so I can compare him to that?” and then go with that? Or what?

  5. Burl Burlingame

    I ran into this myself whilst trying to pick up some lead buckshot. It’s scarce as hen’s teeth these days.
    An awful lot of ammunition is being expended overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s where most of it is going. I’m sure there ARE wingnut crazies out there terrified of a Hawaiian president, but the ammo drain is primarily military.

  6. martin

    …and, you provide a forum to some of these people…
    I guess your theory is that it’s better to know what and how they’re thinking than be surprized?

  7. jstevens

    Ammo hasn’t been all that plentiful for a while now. At least that is what gun shop employees were telling me around ’05. The rest is being squirreled away by those who think a Democrat President is going to place restrictions on handgun ammo. No matter how to break it down it is a great time to be in the bullet business.

  8. kbfenner

    I am feeling very nervous. Has there also been a run on jack-boots?

    Why do people feel the need to take assault rifles to town hall meetings? To defend the plutocrats’ rights to own failing industries? To defend the corporations that are sending jobs overseas or simply eliminating them while paying the masters bonuses for poor performance?

    I’ll take government control of the means of production any day, thank you very much, and turn your guns in at the door, please, unless you are a member of a well-regulated militia.

    I hope you get a job with benefits very soon, Brad. It is unfortunate that you are forced by our ridiculous system to make decisions based on that rather than on where your best contributions to society might be made. Courage!

  9. Lee Muller

    You have to be pretty ignorant to not know about all the Democrat legislation to restrict firearms ownership, outlaw it, confiscate it, and tax it at more than 1000%.

    The lefties are “afraid” of honest people exercising their right of self defense and duty to bear arms.

    They are also “afraid” of citizens exercising their free speech at town hall meetings, protests against socialism and high taxes, and on the Internet.

    They are “afraid” of alternative media publishing facts that the state-controlled corporate media fails to report.

    Mrs. Fenner, you might need to study the militia laws. “Every able-bodied man” is a member of the militia, and has a duty to be armed and ready to protect his family, neighbors, state and nation.

    You might also want to drop that Marxist lingo about evil corporations, “jack boots”, and “the masters”.

  10. Libb

    Brad, it seems our collective brain went into reptilian mode after 9/11 and the likes of Rush, Glenn, Sean, Savage etal continue to manipulate that fear to further their “agendas”.

    Things went beyond ominous last week w/ the murder of the Kentucky census worker (found lynched in the woods w/ the word “fed” scrawled on his chest). Is that really where you want things to evolve, Lee?

    Yes, I too, believe it is more complicated and involves more than race (FYI:the census worker was a White guy). It goes into the realm of moral depravity.

    Speaking of which–Lee,your “Rodney King” post was racist and arrogant/classist.

  11. Lee Muller

    Libb, you are simply using goon tactics to avoid discussing the very genuine concerns of millions of Americans about an inept government, run by radicals, destroying the economy and possibly a complete break down of social order.

    There is nothing racist about recalling the many riots where armed citizens had to protect their businesses and neighborhoods – it is a fact that they were race riots, by blacks, attacking other white and Asian businesses, and other blacks. Several black mayors issued “shoot to kill” orders to the police. I don’t think they were racists for doing so.

    A murdered Census worker has no connection to the millions of people protesting huge proposed tax hikes on the working classes and retirees. The bootleggers and pot growers of Kentucky have never liked the “feds”. Go read about how the “feds” murdered so many union organizers, if you really want to understand it.


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