Reader Ty S. writes:
Now that we are in a post election world and the dust has begun to settle somewhat, I thought this would be a good time to talk about the roller coaster that has been the firearms related market for the past eight years and how we might be able to avoid the same clap-trap the next time it comes around. Please keep in mind that I’m not down-playing the dangers of a reckless government nor those of a lawless despot. This analysis is merely, well, analytical.
As most folks have noticed, the firearms industry went absolutely insane in 2008. The fear was real. ZOMG TEHR GUNNA TAKE MAH GUNNZZZ!!! The huge market spike was not, despite what some will tell you, due to the gubmint buying mass quantities of arms and ammunition. Some of the market shifts can be attributed to new reloaders or shooters, but most of it was directly influenced by people who already have guns and already reload. The majority of the scarcity was a fantastic real-world scenario of the tragedy of the commons an en masse form of the “prisoners dilemma“.
Though I am loathe to quote wikipedia, it has the most succinct definition. The tragedy of the commons works thus:
“The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource through their collective action.”
From a game theory perspective, the game is divided into more or less two strategies. You can take only what you need and rely on others do the same (Nash equilibrium/optimal strategy) or you can exploit the system and take as much as you can for yourself (dominant strategy) ensuring that no matter what others do at least you got yours. If the supply line is infinite the dominant strategy would work every time and would necessarily be Nash.
“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” – Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
The shortage problem arises from too many people using the dominant strategy of buying as much as they can (e.g. buying as many .22 LR bricks as the credit card allows) regardless of what the supply chain can support. This leads into a recursion loop that only exacerbates the problem.
Following the .22LR theme, many people who aren’t even “gun people” tend to at least own a firearm chambered in .22 LR. So imagine their surprise when they go to buy a box of ammo only to find them unobtainable.The guy at the gun counter tells them that they better buy them wherever they find them because the gubmint’s takin’ it all.
“Crap! Better buy a couple of bricks when I see them!”, they think. The recursion loop is a fancy term for the herd mentality, like a stampede. Every cow is running, but few really know what they’re running from, only that all the others are running so they better keep up. This was the stampede that trampled our AR, ammo and reloading supplies. If you are sitting on 5,000+ rounds of .22LR and haven’t shot more than 500 rounds in the last year, I’m looking at you.
The optimal strategy would have been to:
a.) Already have the necessary arms/components on hand and supplement them accordingly without hoarding
b.) Make a measured, but stead growth of accumulation of goods also without hoarding
I got into the reloading game in 2015 (I would have started sooner, but the market was nuts). I’d bought four firearms since 2008 (that I would have bought regardless of who the president was) and managed to do just fine without paying through the nose for any of it. I didn’t panic buy, I waited for market forces to normalize before making bulk purchases and I still managed to shoot as much as I cared to from 2008 to present.
This is a plea for reason, a call to refuse to participate in any future stampede. Consider the pros and cons of the dominant strategy vs. the optimal strategy when it comes to how, when and why we buy our firearms and related goods.