We had barely opened the doors of Miller Guns & Ammo in Las Cruces, NM and in they marched looking for “22 ammo”, i.e. .22 long rifle (lr) rimfire ammunition. They rushed passed the 100’s of rifles and pistols and piles of accessories in stock and made a beeline straight for our shelves of ammunition tucked into the back corner of the store; shelves that are stacked full of options for all the different types of firearms that our federal firearm licensed (FFL) store sells. First they would look. And then they would turn and call out, “Hey, do you have any .22?” or exclaim, “What? Your .22 is [x] cents a round, that’s extortion! I can get it cheaper at [insert store name here].”

Our little inside joke to blow off steam?  “Sure, that’s the price they advertise. We could say we sell it for that price too if we didn’t have any in stock like them.”  In truth, for me, I’ve lost my patience with the lack of understanding of market forces and how our government operates; with the fear mongering and commitment to the idea that Armageddon and the zombie apocalypse are only days away; with the tendency to proclaim “but that store has it at this (unrealistic) price” to whatever proprietor they happen to be pressuring for a deal as if their saying it made it so.

So what gives? Well, there actually is a real increase in demand. More people buying more guns that shoot more ammo. We now have an entire generation of “shooting age” buyers with a preference for a tactical look and feel thanks to Middle East deployments and hours spent mastering Call of Duty and Halo. The market responded as it is wont to do with these things known as “tactical” .22 rifles that look and rat-a-tat-tat shoot like their bigger brethren — given the up to 25 round capacity magazines — but are still cheap and easy to handle .22s. Are you really going to take a 25-round capacity mag to the range and not shoot all of it? And then not insert the second and third full mags in your range bag and do it again? Me neither. Boom, increased demand.

But wait there’s more! A scarcity caused by an almost fake demand if you will. Up first are those ever growing in numbers people channeling their inner Chicken Little, buying and hoarding, buying and hoarding, because one day, .22 will be the equivalent of gold! Ranging from people with the all-American desire to be self-sufficient and escape the pressures of modern day life; to those who fear unilateral government action and rule by fiat without even understanding how very difficult change comes to a government with a Constitution written to slow that change stuff down; all the way to the conspiracy theorists who truly believe our government is on the brink of collapse, the dollar is worthless, the zombies are coming, and when they do it will be “anarchy I say!” while simultaneously merrily ignoring the truths of: American Exceptionalism (our founders created the most stable democratic republic the world has ever seen); why money has any value at all (you can return to the trade and barter system if you’d like, but I don’t want to go there with you); that zombies don’t exist (really, they don’t); and that people have an evolutionary predisposition to gravitate towards living in groups in order to sustain life.

And the trend towards fear of the future is further fed by psyche shocks, made worse by the drumbeat of the 24-hour news-cycle media hype. From dreadful events like the Newton MA and the Aurora, CO theater shootings to the Boston Marathon bombing, the horror of it plus watching coverage of it on TV for weeks on end make almost everyone wonder how they would have reacted if they’d been there and how can they keep their families safe. A contemplation further goaded by the media’s love of blaming guns/gun owners whenever disaster strikes.

All of the above (real demand, fear of the future, and buying into media alarmism) has coalesced into hoarding. Instead of buying what you need for the day? You buy every box. And then come back again and do it the next day. And the next. Irrationally, you routinely buy more than you need, becoming price insensitive as you’ll pay whatever to get it. Increasing demand both falsely and exponentially at the exact same time. “Better safe than sorry,” says the survivalist; “.22 lr will be like gold!” say the zombie-anarchy-fearers.

Good old American entrepreneurialism plays a role too. The snake oil salesmen from the days of yore returned to price gouge purely because they could. Frenzy and hoarding allowed the demanders to become actual victims. It’s like when it’s about to snow back east. The first thing that happens? The stores are wiped clean of milk, eggs and bread. The nightly news always gets a few minutes of airtime showing the empty shelves, “oh no we’ll starve!” Why do people always buy more than they need of those exact items? Because they see others doing it. Our herd instinct kicks in, we panic, we hoard, prices soar, and the shelves empty even though enough is in the supply pipeline to provide.

And then bam! You all become price sensitive again. You complain bitterly about the very circumstance you created, higher .22 lr ammo prices. Every article I’ve seen written on the topic is followed by 100’s of comments that say things like, “I personally have not fired a weapon in 10 years yet I have been purchasing ammunition regularly until I have 1000 rounds each for my .22, 12 gauge, and .303.” We have met the enemy and he is us. This is the attitude that makes your ammo “scarce” and expensive.

So you have a choice, change your behavior or accept market forces are real and that the perfect storm of factors that increased demand and kept it elevated in the face of higher prices means it’s not the year 1995 where .22 lr is 1 or 2 cents a round, most 22 rifles are single shot, and gas is 98 cents a gallon. Instead, it’s 2015 and in our world of more gun buyers (a good thing!), more .22 lr gun options (a great thing!), and a tendency to believe the big bad government is out to get you — sort of like the ancient Greeks created the gods to explain things like how the sun moved across the sky (sigh) — mean that unless there is a dramatic shift in attitudes, you’re going to have to pay more to get what you want. Especially for the quality stuff.