National Review, by Kevin D. Williamson: “I thought I was a gun nut,” he says. “But that was before I started working here.”
Here is the firearms department of a suburban chain sporting-goods store, where customers and soon-to-be-disappointed would-be customers line up outside before the store opens hoping for a chance to purchase ammunition. You see the same thing all over, outside Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops and Academy and independent local retailers: signs apologizing for the paucity of the firearms inventory, signs advertising a two-box limit for what little ammunition is available, the anxious faces of frustrated shooters.
I want to ask him about the co-worker who has just informed me that we are no more than ten years away from building concentration camps for white people thanks to the public-school curriculum in New York City. But I don’t push — he’s busy with paperwork.
In March 2020, more than 1 million background checks for firearms purchases were recorded in a single week for the first time since the FBI started keeping records. The million-a-week mark has been surpassed several times since then. For a while, it was difficult to buy firearms of the sort that people buy when they are scared: AR-pattern rifles and semiautomatic handguns. The best ones are still pretty hard to come by: Wilson Combat, the Louis Vuitton of the semiautomatic-firearm business, currently lists not a single rifle or handgun in stock and hasn’t in months.
But it isn’t just the mall-commando stuff. Here in Texas, in the heart of gun country, the cash registers are ringing everywhere from modest independent sporting-goods stores to the tony Beretta boutique in Highland Park Village, where shooters can shop for European shooting tweeds while fondling shotguns that cost as much as a serious sports car.
Some firearms have returned to the shelves. But ammunition is another matter. That market was subjected to what everybody in the business insists on calling a “perfect storm”: Demand went through the roof as Americans stocked up at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, and demand continued to be strong throughout the lockdowns and the riots and political violence of 2020, through the election; at the same time, production was interrupted as factories went dark, and Donald Trump’s ill-advised trade war with China left certain raw materials difficult to source. The company that makes Remington-branded ammunition reported a production backlog of a year or more at the end of 2020. Other manufacturers were in a similar position. Shooters whisper rumors to one another like subjects of the Soviet Union looking for bread or shoes: “I hear they’re getting some .357 next week.”
People have started making gun-buying decisions based on what ammo is available.
Factories have prioritized production of the most in-demand rounds, which, the times being what they are, aren’t hunting cartridges like the .30-06 but the 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammunition used in AR-style rifles and the 9mm and .40-caliber rounds that feed the most popular semiautomatic handguns. While defense-oriented semiautomatic firearms are selling briskly at high prices, formerly coveted hunting rifles sit unsold in part because no one can get their hands on the ammunition to go with them. A thriving barter trade has developed.
A man who must have a rogue bull elephant bothering him asks a clerk about the availability of .500 Nitro Express, a favorite of Africa-bound hunters. The answer: “Good luck.”
In Dallas, a recent class for those seeking a license to carry was well attended in spite of the fact that Texas is about to implement “constitutional carry,” under which no license would be required to carry a firearm that the carrier is legally eligible to own. Middle-aged African Americans made up almost exactly one half of that class. Black buyers account for about one in five of the guns sold nationwide in recent years, and Hispanic buyers a similar share. And about one in five buyers last year were first-time buyers.
That’s a lot of guns in a lot of inexperienced hands, as in the case of the student in the Dallas license-to-carry class who tried to cram .45-caliber rounds into a 9mm pistol. Another first-timer bounced around off the floor, throwing up sparks. A 40-ish man who had sauntered in with a pistol sticking out of the pocket of his sweatpants — and here I’ll repeat that this was a class for people seeking a license to carry, not a class for people who already have one — discovered to his dismay that he needs 50 rounds for the shooting test, and all he has is the 19 rounds in his pistol. There’s ammo for sale, but he doesn’t have any money. Spent it all on the Glock, I guess.
We sometimes talk about “American gun culture,” but another way of saying “American gun culture” is “American culture.”
As a matter of civil liberty, the Second Amendment is every bit as important as the First or the Fourth or the Sixth, and it is no accident that the semiautomatic rifle has taken the place of the cannon on the Texas revolutionary flag, emblazoned over the slogan that has over the centuries made its way from Thermopylae to Fort Morris to Gonzalez to the bumper of a whole lot of F-150s: “Come and Take It.” At least one of the shoppers looking for ammo over the weekend had the version Plutarch attributed to Leonidas — μολὼν λαβέ — tattooed on his forearm. It’s a popular bumper-sticker, too.
And that “Don’t Tread on Me” spirit matters to a people whose two great formative episodes were the Revolution and the frontier experience. That attitude is an important part of what has kept America free. But it also is bound up in some of the worst aspects of our national character: paranoia, our unarticulated antinomianism, our taste for political and religious extremism, and our horrifying addiction to violence. Americans are a murder-happy people — not only with firearms but with knives and clubs and hammers, with bombs, automobiles, and standing water. There are lots of countries where people have guns. Switzerland is a gunned-up country, and there are millions of privately owned firearms in France, Austria, and Italy — walk around Tuscany at the right time of year and you can hear the shotguns of the pheasant hunters, a blast in the distance every few minutes.
I hear shotgun blasts where I live, too — but this is an American city, and they aren’t shooting at pheasants.
But this isn’t really about the guns. It’s about a society that is, palpably, wobbling on the brink of something awful, with failing institutions, incompetent government, reciprocal distrust among rival social groups, and widespread simmering rage.
On Memorial Day, we remember those who took up arms because they thought their civilization represented something good and worth preserving. But we increasingly take up arms for the opposite reason: because we believe this society to be corrupt, failing, doomed. We half dread the possibility of breakdown and bloodshed — and are made half-giddy by it, too.
And that is a dangerous state of affairs. Americans don’t have a well-regulated militia — we don’t have a well-regulated anything.
This dangerous mix is surely going to blow. This firearm situation is preparing the way for the lawlessness of the last days. Do you think Satan is also preparing for a popular violent assault on God’s Remnant?
“Those who teach the people to regard lightly the commandments of God sow disobedience to reap disobedience. Let the restraint imposed by the divine law be wholly cast aside, and human laws would soon be disregarded. Because God forbids dishonest practices, coveting, lying, and defrauding, men are ready to trample upon His statutes as a hindrance to their worldly prosperity; but the results of banishing these precepts would be such as they do not anticipate. If the law were not binding, why should any fear to transgress? Property would no longer be safe. Men would obtain their neighbor’s possessions by violence, and the strongest would become richest. Life itself would not be respected. The marriage vow would no longer stand as a sacred bulwark to protect the family. He who had the power, would, if he desired, take his neighbor’s wife by violence. The fifth commandment would be set aside with the fourth. Children would not shrink from taking the life of their parents if by so doing they could obtain the desire of their corrupt hearts. The civilized world would become a horde of robbers and assassins; and peace, rest, and happiness would be banished from the earth.” Great Controversy, page 585.1.