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Preparing gun owners
for the short-term future

By Massad Ayoob

Massad Ayoob

Issue #111 • May/June, 2008

Hey. Hey! Hey! Aren't my assignments supposed to be more like, "How about a story on Savage rifles?"
George W. Bush, during his first Presidential campaign, with the author.
George W. Bush, during his first Presidential campaign, with the author. Ayoob thinks the Bush administration has by and large been good for gun owners' civil rights.

Let's get one thing straight to start with: I ain't no political pundit. Hell, my candidate isn't even running. I was hoping Condoleeza Rice would throw her hat in the ring. International statecraft and diplomacy are a huge part of the Presidential job description, and Rice has more experience in those areas than all the rest of the field combined. Obama's silent "vote for the first black President" message, and Clinton's "vote for the first female President" and "the single women all want me" schticks, would all have been neutralized by a Rice candidacy. Moreover, from the gun owners' perspective, Condoleeza Rice is solidly pro-Second Amendment.

But she's not running, and we're left with a pretty sorry crop of semi-finalists to lead a nation of more than three hundred million people. Bearing in mind that I'm no political expert, and I'm writing this a few days after Super Tuesday, here's how it looks for "gun people."

Election...

On the Democratic side of the race for the White House, nothing bodes positive for the civil rights of gun owners. Barack Obama has flatly stated in his policy outlines that he wants to ban "assault weapons," and indeed, semi-automatic firearms. That would include the early 20th Century Browning autoloading shotgun that came down through your family from your great-great-grandfather. It would include the antique Remington Model 8 deer rifle that your great-grandfather used to put venison on the table during the Great Depression. It would include the souvenir Army .45, introduced in 1911, that your granddad brought home from World War II. It would include the military surplus M1 carbine your dad purchased for $35 through the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Government's Director of Civilian Marksmanship in a happier, freer time. It would eliminate your brother's semiautomatic AR15 rifle, similar to the M16 he fought with in Vietnam, and similar to the M4 your son or daughter might be fighting with right now in the Middle East. It would, for the first time in American history, prevent you and others like you from protecting yourselves with the same kind of handgun police use to protect you.

Both Clinton and Obama want to take away your right to buy 'sport utility rifles' such as this Smith & Wesson Military & Police version of the semiautomatic AR15.
Both Clinton and Obama want to take away your right to buy 'sport utility rifles' such as this Smith & Wesson Military & Police version of the semiautomatic AR15.

Hillary Clinton's antipathy toward firearms owners and their rights is well-known. You can be certain that she would do everything in her power to reinstate the onerous Assault Weapons Ban her husband ramrodded through Congress during his Presidency. This time around, it would not have the sunset clause that saved us after a miserable decade the last time, and the ban would be worded to encompass a great many more useful and traditional firearms.

Some pundits say that the Democrats "learned" from the last ban, when Republicans swept into control of the Congress shortly after the AWB was passed, and Bill Clinton himself blamed the NRA and the whole "gun control" thing for his party's resounding defeat that year. However, Mrs. Clinton is not noted for taking good advice, and "gun control" is one of her Issues. That she would use the "bully pulpit" of the White House to push for more draconian restrictions on the civil rights of firearms owners is almost assured.

On the Republican side? It's McCain or Huckabee. Ron Paul, a solid pro-gun owner candidate, does not appear to be electable. Mike Huckabee is certainly a more electable candidate, according to the conventional wisdom, among those who stand 100% for gun owners' rights. An ideal candidate for the pro-gun one-issue voter, Huckabee's strongest chance to do that particular bloc some good may be as Veep candidate, or as one of the brokers at a brokered Republican Convention, gathering promises to secure certain rights in return for the delegates he brings.

John McCain, at this writing, is well in the lead for the Republican nomination. The NRA has actually given him fair-to-middlin' grades, though the more hard-line Gun Owners of America has downgraded him from a "C" to an "F" grade the last few years. To his credit, he had the guts and the integrity to oppose Bill Clinton's Assault Weapons Ban. However, McCain's vote to "close the (erroneously named) gun show loophole" hurt him badly with many one-issue voters on the pro-gun side. Moreover, his McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act was seen by many NRA members as a direct attack on their right to free speech, and was seen the same way by a lot of union people, right-to-life advocates, etc.

If it comes down to McCain versus "Hillbama," thinking gun owners will find McCain by far the lesser of the two evils insofar as firearms legislation. Of course, there will be some die-hards who will vote for a fringe candidate to "make a statement." This, in effect, will be one more vote for the greater of two evils. Dave Duffy and I could spend a goodly amount of time debating this, but I can't help remembering when the backlash vote for Ross Perot, against the first President Bush, apparently put Bill Clinton in the White House. Recent political history shows no more classic example of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

...and recession...

Even experts such as former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan don't think there's anything the Government can do to keep us from slipping into recession. All the signs are there, and much of what's causing it comes from global economic factors that the United States can do little to control. In a recent interview in a German publication, Greenspan put the chances of recession at about fifty-fifty. Some consider him an optimist.

30-round (left) and 20-round magazines, these for AR15, were prohibited under the first Clinton Assault Weapon Ban. Expect it to return with a vengeance under a Democratic President, warns Ayoob.
30-round (left) and 20-round magazines, these for AR15, were prohibited under the first Clinton Assault Weapon Ban. Expect it to return with a vengeance under a Democratic President, warns Ayoob.

How does all that hit the firearms area? Well, from the end-user's side, there's good news and bad news. When individuals hit by recession tighten their belts, they buy what they need and not what they want. This can have the effect of reducing demand for high-priced sporting firearms, driving prices down for those who can still afford to purchase. Things like coin collections and gun collections go up for sale when their owners are up against it for funds. Their need for immediate cash weakens their bargaining position, and in the collectibles market, more specimens becoming available tends to drive down prices.

On the other hand, small businesses are among the first hurt in recessions. Most gun shops are in fact small businesses. This means less competition in a given local specialty market, which usually means higher prices.

I've heard some in the firearms field speculate that prices of new firearms-related goods—the guns and the ammo—may come down. In a vacuum, that could happen, but other things are at work, and as Greenspan noted, some of them are beyond our control. Massive construction going on in other nations, particularly China, is creating a disproportionately high demand for structural metals. This means steel is scarcer and increasing in price, and that's what guns are primarily made of. Brass and copper and lead are skyrocketing too, and they are what ammunition is made of. Thus, it seems that expecting such prices to come down during this particular recession, if it does indeed happen, is probably unrealistic.

...and the two together

The backwoods home tradition is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. In the scenario our editor postulates, that worst is a Clinton/Obama or even a Clinton/Clinton Presidency and a recession at the same time. From the gun side of things, we could expect the following:

Firearms: If the Democrats gain control this time around, expect attempts to severely impinge or even crush into nonexistence your rights to own semiautomatic firearms. If you don't have one already, buy it as soon as possible. If you do own one and you can afford another, buy it as a spare.

The majority of hunting and sporting shotguns in this gun shop display are semiautomatics, the kind Barack Obama has publicly stated he wants to ban.
The majority of hunting and sporting shotguns in this gun shop display are semiautomatics, the kind Barack Obama has publicly stated he wants to ban.

Stock up on magazines. Shortly before the Clinton Ban, I bought a bunch of Glock .40 fifteen-round magazines for about $11 apiece. Shortly after the ban became law, such magazines were selling for as much as $100 each. Should a President Clinton or a President Obama get their way, any magazine holding more than ten cartridges may well become illegal to manufacture for public sale, as before.

Remember that if a Democratic administration gets its way, such firearms and magazines will be gone for good. In England, when that happened (with semiautomatic rifles, and with all handguns) the arms had to be turned in at government checkpoints. In the U.S. as during the last Assault Weapons Ban, it's most likely that guns and magazines currently in your possession will be "grandfathered." This means you want to be thinking about buying and setting aside some guns for kids and grandkids who might otherwise never be allowed to acquire them.

Yes, that can represent a substantial cash investment, but guns tend to hold their values well. Some even appreciate, and that is definitely true once they are "banned" by some meaningless, feel-good, Yuppie legislation. I bought my Steyr AUG "assault rifle" for about $600 in the late 1980s. They were going for $3000 by the end of the Ban period. Prior to the 1986 Act that banned private sale of fully automatic weapons manufactured after that date, an HK MP5 submachine gun could be had for under a thousand dollars, plus the $200 Federal Class III license. Today, with that particular ban still in effect, I've seen grandfathered "pre-ban" MP5s go for fifteen thousand dollars apiece.

Ammunition: If famine was coming, you'd stock up on food. As this is written—no full blown recession yet, and George W. Bush still occupying the White House—the ammo famine is already coming. I went to order a large quantity of ammunition for my police department yesterday and found an eight-month waiting list. Fortunately, we had seen that coming and already ordered ahead; the current order is intended to keep us ahead. If that's where governmental public safety entities buying in bulk stand in the queue, you know where individuals with smaller needs are in that particular food chain.

Reputable loading guides, like this one by Speer, are indispensable if you want to save money and become self-sufficient by loading your own ammunition.
Reputable loading guides, like this one by Speer, are indispensable if you want to save money and become self-sufficient by loading your own ammunition.

As always, when preparing for shortages, "buy it cheap and stack it deep." Yes, ammo has been going up in price—precipitously so of late, in fact—but it is still a helluva lot cheaper vis-à-vis earning power than it was twenty or even fifty years ago. You gotta look at it realistically, like it or not. I don't much like getting older, but, as the saying goes, "I consider the alternative." It's kinda like, "Yes, I'm the oldest I've ever been...but I'm also the youngest I'm ever going to be."

In this case, factory-produced ammunition may be the most expensive it's ever been, but in all probability, it's also the cheapest it's ever going to be. Yes, a pullout from Iraq will reduce one drain on ammo production that has caused price increase and bottlenecked supply, but as noted above that is not the only cause, and those other factors aren't subject to "pullout."

Another option: get into reloading. In the last year, with ammo prices going up and up, I've seen two trends. One is shooters getting into making their own ammo for the first time. The other is folks who got into it in the past and got away from it, returning to "rolling their own."

You can get into a decent reloading set-up, bare bones, for $500 in new equipment, and a really decent outfit for around a grand. There's lots of good stuff out there. I can personally recommend Dillon Precision (www.dillonprecision.com) for great gear, great prices, and standard-setting customer service.

It will cost you time. The best route is to find an experienced, competent reloader who can guide you hands-on through the intricacies of setting up the equipment and making your own ammunition for the first time. With lead (for the bullets), copper (for the bullet jackets), and brass (for the cartridge casings) going up all the time, your reloading components are increasing in cost just like factory-manufactured cartridges. There are also shortages, particularly in primers. Still, there is substantial potential for cost savings.

Keep in mind that there's a break-even point on all this. If you're an old time hunter who can make a 20-round box of ammo last for twenty years with a deer in the freezer every year, reloading won't be cost effective for you. If you're a more cautious and practical hunter who fires a hundred or more shots in sight-in or practice before the annual hunting season opens, it'll take you a long time to save enough to pay off the equipment. But if you're a gun enthusiast, a serious recreational shooter, or someone who is just very serious about staying alive and practicing armed survival skills, now you're at the ammo expenditure level where investing in reloading equipment can make a huge amount of sense.

Remember you'll be literally storing explosives on the premises, the gunpowder and the primers, but common sense has taken care of that for responsible people since the 19th century. When reloading, always wear safety glasses, and never smoke in the loading room. Stay as alert as you would be shooting live-fire on the range. People have been badly hurt by chain-explosion of primers in the feeder, and by guns that have exploded, not to mention the countless fine firearms ruined by careless reloading.

It's kind of a commitment thing. You need a bit of space to set up the equipment. You need to allocate time to do it when you're alert, not exhausted and losing attention span at the end of a hard workday.

If you own the popular SKS rifle, or any other 7.62x39, you can stock up rather economically with this Russian-made Wolf brand practice ammo.
If you own the popular SKS rifle, or any other 7.62x39, you can stock up rather economically with this Russian-made Wolf brand practice ammo.

It's literally recycling: you're re-filling and re-using spent cartridge casings. There is a pride of workmanship and a sense of accomplishment that goes with your own ammo, much like growing and canning your own vegetables. If money is tight and you have the time, reloading can be very economical. If you're to where your time is money, and the more you work the more you get paid, then you'll probably find that reloading is no longer economical when you factor in what your time spent doing it is worth.

For a lot of folks, reloading has become a dedicated hobby, not a necessity, and they happily make time for it. Some like to tinker with more accurate loads, or more effective ones for their particular needs. Some find it relaxing for the same reasons that shooting and rock climbing are relaxing: by demanding your total attention in the name of safety, they purge you of whatever troubles were on your mind before you set yourself to the task.

It's not just about money. There's that personal satisfaction element. Many Backwoods Home readers make Jackie Clay's home canning advice a reality in their home, not because they can't afford to go to Sam's Club and stock up on staples, but because it puts them in touch with America's roots. It gives them a pleasant and reassuring sense of self-sufficiency. It gives them pride of accomplishment. Food you grew and canned yourself "tastes better" in more ways than one.

It's the same with reloading. Back when I had time to load my own ammo, the prize I brought back from the shooting match held more pride, and the meat I brought home just "tasted better," if I earned it with ammunition I crafted myself. You'll find the same.

Bottom line

For activists in the area of law-abiding gun owners' civil rights, there are no really good candidates in the upcoming Presidential election. We are likely to be offered only the choice between bad and worse. But in this case, the "worse" is truly horrible.

Look on the bright side: gun owners have weathered dark political times before. We got through the Clinton years once (or, if you count by terms, twice) before.

Not all those we supported have been perfect candidates. Ronald Reagan, an icon among pro-gun activists today, was President when the 1986 curtailment of sales of new fully automatic weapons to private citizens became law. Gun owners supported George H. W. Bush, who subsequently resigned his NRA life membership and banned the importation of a broad spectrum of semiautomatic rifles. We supported our current incumbent, George W. Bush, yet his Solicitor General Paul Clement recently submitted what is essentially a brief against private gun ownership in Washington, DC in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case on the interpretation of the Second Amendment, District of Columbia v. Heller.

Many in the gun owners' rights community see this as a betrayal by President Bush, who is widely credited with owing both his elections to the highest office to the staunch grassroots support of the citizens who make up the so-called "gun lobby." I've not yet seen clear and convincing proof, however, that Bush ordered his appointee to file that brief, or even knew beforehand that the Solicitor General was going to do so. After all, it was under Bush that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft wrote his famous opinion that the Second Amendment spoke, indeed, to an individual right. And we notice that Vice-President Dick Cheney (and Senator John McCain) signed on to an amicus brief in the Heller case in favor of the position that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is indeed an individual right. Cheney and McCain, by the way, were joined in that by a majority of the current Democrat-controlled Congress.

We are, as the saying goes, living in interesting times. Things could get bad. If they do, this is one special issue of Backwoods Home that you might just want to keep handy.




Read More by Massad Ayoob

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