1994 vs. Now

Originally published at Notes from the bunker…. You can comment here or there.

Seen it before, pal. Pull up a chair, younguns, an I’ll tell you about the Great Primer Scare and the 1994 buying frenzy and how this current scenario compares.

Back in the late 80’s, early 90’s there was a rumour going around that the Clintonistas were going to mandate that all primers would degrade to the point of being inert within a set amount of time (usually six months). The idea behind this was that us evil right-wingers and gun nuts (or, as I prefer, ‘Ballistic-Americans’) wouldnt be able to stockpile ammo for our guns since in six months it would be useless. This sort of thing certainly sounded like something Slick Willie would pull…after all, this was the time of Janet Reno, Waco, and some pretty heavy-handed federal policing. Folks naturally started stocking up on primers…and it became a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: you stocked up on primers against there not being any more and everyone else started to do the same. As a result, primers became scarce which validated peoples fears and made them buy more primers.

Eventually, people came to their senses. At the time, the technology wasnt there to make a primer that would go inert at six months without possibly going inert alot sooner or alot later. It was like trying to make an ice cube that would melt to nothingness at a precise moment.

I know people who, even today, have thousands and thousands of primers stockpiled after that incident ‘just in case’ something like that happens again. I see one of ‘em in the mirror every day.

In 1994 the Assualt Weapons ban came up and your $5 surplus AR mags suddenly commanded about five or ten times that. Any new magazine had to hold only ten rounds and alot of manufacturers played it safe and made them so theyd only hold nine since a guy with strong thumbs might be able to squeeze in an extra and get the manufacturer in trouble with Reno & Co. Again, people started stocking up and AR’s, AK’s and all that cool stuff was flying off the shelf. I have one buddy who, having missed the boat, had to take the last AR left in the shop…one of those ‘commemorative’ models with silver plating and lettering in wierd places. Looks pimptacular but it is an AR and at least he had one. I do give him a hard time about his ‘pimp gun’ though.

Magazines that held more than 10 rounds skyrocketed in value. Those capacious Glock mags that hold 30 rounds of 9mm would go for $100. A BetaMag could go as high as $700. And if you had something really funky that took mags that were already expensive (HK, Steyr, Valmet, etc.) you were gonna be forking out big bucks. Into this mix came new guns, like the SR-25, AR10 clones etc. that, since they were made after the ban, never even had a factory 10+ mag until 2004.

Today, its a familiar story with some different overtones. Folks are buying guns and mags like they’re going out of style…no doubt about it. But theyre also stocking up on ammo…not a box or ten like you’d think. We’re talking about guys walking out of gun shows with hand trucks loaded down with outrageously priced ammo…prices that two years ago would have made you laugh in the vendors face and say “Yeah, right!”.

The biggest differences I’ve seen compared to the Great Primer Scare, the ‘94 Ban. the Y2K Panic and even the earlier ‘86 Executive Order banning imports are:

  • Quantity – Ive been involved in this sort of thing for twenty years and I have never seen people unblinkingly drop as much money on guns, mags and components as I have lately. People don’t bat an eye at spending hundreds or thousands of dollars at a pop because they know that if they dont buy it that moment someone else will be there right behind them to buy it.
  • Reloading components – primers and powder always start flying out the door. Theyre consumables with almost no DIY alternative. Bullets can be made at home if you have to but making your own smokelss powder and primers is practically impossible.  Although there was a definite increase in past panics they were nothing comapred to this current one. I have called vendors who normally have thousands of varieties of brass and bullets and they can tell me everything they have in inventory in one breath. Makes you wonder why the even come in and turn the lights on.
  • Reloading equipment – This is the biggest departure from previous panics. Good luck finding an RCBS set of .223, .308, 9mm, .357 or .45 ACP dies at the local shop. These are durable goods…things that will last a lifetime….and people are stocking up on them too. I called RCBS to order a bullet mould out of their Special List. Previously the voice on the end says “You are caller number…” and usually its caller three or four if theres a wait…often theres no wait. Last time I called I was caller #39 in queue. When I finally got to talk to a human it was moot – they were out of everything I wanted. I need 24 sets of various caliber dies. I got 5 and had to get that from three different vendors. That, my friends, is people thinking for the long haul.
  • Survivalist subsets – more and  more of the people buying guns and ammo in huge quantities are also doing waht can only be described as ‘gearing up’ for…something. In addition to the guns, ammo, components and reloading gear theyre buying freeze dried food, water storage, solar panels, etc. The natives are restless.

So, historically, we are in uncharted waters on this one. In this economy, where folks may not have a job in a few weeks, people are still willing to take the plunge and buy five AR’s, or a case of 100 magazines, or 20,000 primers, or five cases of ammo. That shows that they genuinely believe, right or wrong, that what theyre buying won’t be available in the future.

Having had a front row seat for the ten years of the 1994 AW ban I made bloody sure that I wouldnt get caught when (not if) they tried that stunt again. As a result, I’m not paying $1500 for AR’s, $25 for mags, or $40 for a case of primers.

Anyway, its going to be a bumpy ride. In a few years maybe we’ll all be buying huge caches of discounted components at yard sales. Or maybe we’ll be paying $2 per round for South African .308. If the current panic buying is anything to go by, the latter looks more likely than the former.