Last year, the Biden Administration banned the further import of Russian-made ammunition into the United States. After a subdued press release, which announced the ban was punishment for Russia’s poisoning of the anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow, the entire issue was shelved. Today, no one in the administration is touting the success of this initiative in getting Russia to behave itself. Which is bizarre, given Russia’s excellent behavior since then.
In reality, the Russian ammo embargo is a sanction on Americans, not Russians, and it is working exactly as intended. It was necessary because banning guns, a consistent objective of our government over the last 100 years, has proven extremely difficult.
For example, after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, Connecticut banned assault rifles (or banned them more—a less stringent ban was already in place). A Connecticut rifle selling for $1,000 suddenly cost $3,000 because it was a “preban.” The new law proscribed any rifle or pistol that had more than a single item from a list of evil features, including a pistol grip, bayonet lugs, an adjustable stock, a flash suppressor, or a detachable magazine. As a result, items such as 60-year-old World War II carbines became illegal in the state.
But it wasn’t long before someone figured out that attaching a vertical forward grip and a pistol brace to an AR-15 could allow it legal classification as neither a rifle nor a pistol, but an “other” (which is an actual category in federal firearms law). And so, for the moment at least, Connecticut legislators are again on the back foot, and there are plenty of AR-15 “others” on the shelves.
Connecticut can always propose more stringent laws, of course, but the Supreme Court may then feel compelled to step in. California’s high-capacity magazine ban, which was overturned by a U.S. District Court and again by a three-judge federal panel, was recently upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and will no doubt end up before the Supreme Court, with the potential to strike down every high-capacity ban in the country.
If the government is to wean Americans off their stubborn attachment to firearms, therefore, a more thoughtful and insidious approach is necessary, such as was used in getting rid of smoking: They didn’t make cigarettes illegal, they just banned advertising, banned smoking in most places, and, above all, taxed tobacco to create a massive and artificial increase in prices.
If you make cigarettes more expensive, people will smoke less. If you make gasoline more expensive, people will drive less. And if you make ammunition more expensive, people will shoot less. It doesn’t matter how many guns you have if you can’t get bullets.
Following the pandemic and then Biden’s inauguration, ammunition prices skyrocketed to historic levels. The price of .22-caliber ammunition that used to cost around four cents a round is now around 10 cents. Pistol ammunition reached almost $1 a round, if you could find it at all. Common rifle calibers cost even more, and anything even slightly exotic has disappeared completely.
All this was beginning to abate when the Biden team came out with their Russian ammo announcement. Russia’s non-reloadable steel-case ammo is a huge part of the bargain-basement segment of shooting, which is all anyone can afford at the moment. The hundred or so cheapest options for any common caliber are all Russian. Delete those, and the price of shooting will immediately double again.
Americans might turn to hand-loading their own ammunition, only to find that the raw components aren’t available. Only four American companies, three owned by the same holding group, manufacture primers domestically. As a result, these critical components cost almost 100 times what they did before the pandemic. These established ammunition companies are delighted with the profits, and see no need to drive down prices with any dramatic increase in capacity. But in pursuing their natural desire to maintain a near-monopoly on the industry, their interests have aligned with the anti-gun crowd.
We need new, independent, domestic end-to-end ammunition plants, and right away. It’s expensive to set one up, which is why there aren’t more in business. But the market is there, the unit economics feasible, and America will thank you.