Economics & Investing For Preppers

Today, in lieu of my regular column, here is a special End-of-Year analysis of the firearms and ammunition market in the United States, with a few predictions for 2021 and beyond. Please note that I have a bias. This report comes from my “tangibles heavy” contrarian perspective. – JWR.

Also, note that we expect to post a similar year-in-review piece on precious metals from Stephen Cochran of Gainesville Coins. That should be posted sometime in the first few days of 2021.

Guns and Ammunition: 2020 in Hindsight

The market for newly-manufactured guns has been frantically busy since March. According to the FBI’s National Instant Check System (NICS) background check data, every month of 2020 has set records over the corresponding month, in 2019. The full data set won’t be available until February,  but the projected sales look like they may top 39 million transfer checks in 2020!  For comparison, the total for 2019 was 28,369,750 NICS checks. What makes the 2020 figure even more astounding is that it was achieved with many gun stores ordered closed by state and local pandemic “lock down” decrees. And in many states all gun shows have been canceled since April of 2020. So, even with many sales outlets restricted, Americans still made the effort to find stores that were open, and bought guns, in quantity.

Keep in mind that the NICS data is always “light” — under-reporting the actual number of sales. This is because many states do not require any NICS checks if the gun buyer holds a concealed carry permit. And the NICS check system only tallies ONE “check”, even if the buyer is purchasing several guns on the same 4473 Form. Nor does the system have any record of secondary private party sales, in 34 of the 50 States. Nor does NICS have any record of home builds from 80%-complete receivers.  So, in all, it is safe to assume that some figure north of 50 million guns changed hands, in 2020.

Parts, Magazines, Reloading Components

Online gun purchasing sites like,, and all had banner years. Online sellers of gun parts, reloading components, and magazines also had phenomenally good sales. One of our affiliate advertisers, GunMag Warehouse, somehow managed to move their company from Florida to Texas and yet also log a record year for sales, in 2020. Amazing.  And another affiliate, Palmetto State Armory (PSA) sold more uppers, lowers, and complete guns than they had in any previous year.  And I’m confident that they would have sold even more, but they ran out of parts to assemble their most popular ARs  and complete uppers.

I’d also like to include some anecdotal observations from 2020:

  • In my own lightly-populated region I’ve heard stories of people driving up to 300 miles to buy a gun that they had located.
  • I also heard of local rancher who had been “sitting on” at least eight AR-15 stripped lower receivers, who went  ahead and completed them with parts that he bought online.
  • One of my neighbors–who is a handloader and target shooter but not a “prepper”–suddenly felt the need to buy a second AR-15. And he also suddenly felt the need to stock up on magazines for the M1 Carbine that he had inherited from his father. And although he already had a shelf full of different smokeless powder varieties, he is now looking for a source for another 20 to 30 pounds of IMR 3031 powder, and he’s been begging me to find him another 20,000+ primers.
Record Ammo Sales

2020 has also been a year for the record books in ammunition sales. The demand has far surpassed the woeful “Ammo Drought” of the Obama era. That shortage had mainly been .22 Long Rifle ammo. But the new ammo drought includes about 90% of rifle and pistol loadings.  (The supply of shotgun birdshot shelsl seems to be the only exception.) Most gun stores in the country have been out of stock for many standard calibers since March. The hardest-hit calibers seem to be 9mm Parabellum and 5.56mm NATO.  But there are now chronic shortages across the board.

Some of the ammunition price increases have strained credulity. For example, Russian-made Wolf brad steel-cased 9mm ball ammunition had been selling for 15 to 20 cents per round, a year ago. But now, gun shops are charging $1 per round ($50 per box of 50), and yet people are still buying it up, in quantity.

Here is another key example: Standard Winchester white box or Federal (“American Eagle”) black box 5.56mm NATO  55-grain ball ammo was selling for around $11 retail per box of 20 cartridges in January of 2020. But today, it is selling for $20+ per box. And many dealers have put purchase limits (typically  2 or 3 boxes, per customer) to prevent their supplies from being completely wiped out.

Another personal anecdote: One of our local gun shops had a very large supply of .22-250 ammunition loaded by Winchester that they’d bought by mistake. Apparently, a store clerk had ordered it instead of .223 Remington.  This was a pile of sealed brown cardboard cases that appeared to be around 4,000 rounds.  When I saw pile that back in November of 2019, I thought to myself:  “It will take them five  or six years to sell all of that.”  But when I dropped by the store in June of 2020, I noticed that the pile of .22-250 was gone.  I asked the store owner what happened.  His droll reply was memorable. He said: “I’ll tell you: 2020 happened.”

The ammunition shortage is now so severe that auction houses are now featuring special actions for ammunition. There, I’m seeing some insane bidding. In one memorable auction that I watched live online,  a few bidders were fighting over a few cans of World War 2 vintage corrosively-primed .30-06 ball (in Garand en bloc clips) for $2+ per round!

Pre-1899 Antiques

The market for antique (pre-1899 production) guns has been almost as frantic as the market for modern guns.  Overall, I’ve seen prices rise from 30% to 90% —  both on the local market and at auction houses that have bidders nationwide. As most of my readers know, I run a sideline business, selling antique guns, called Elk Creek Company. So I keep my finger on the pulse of the antique cartridge gun market. Prices vary widely, depending on the scarcity of particular models, and the condition of guns. But the price trend is definitely up. Here are some personal observations on the recent price increases for pre-1899 guns:

  • In January, I was finding Webley Mark I .45 ACP conversion revolvers for $675 to $1,100.  But as of December, the prevailing prices are ranging between $1,000 and $1,800.
  • In January, I was finding Smith & Wesson .38 Saftey Hammerless (“Lemon Squeezer”) revolvers for $275 to $600 each. But as of December, the prevailing prices are ranging between $500 and $1,200.
  • In January, I was finding Smith & Wesson .44-40 double-action revolvers for $750 to $1,400 each. But as of December, the prevailing prices are ranging between $1,100 and $2,500.
  • In January, I was finding .38 Long Colt Model 1892 to M1896 double-action revolvers made by Colt for $700 to $1,800 each. But as of December, the prevailing prices are ranging between $1,150 and $2,800.
  • In January, I was finding 1895-dated or 1898-dated Swedish Mauser carbines for $675 to $1,200 each.  But as of December, the prevailing prices are ranging between $950 and $1,850.
  • In January, I was finding Ludwig Loewe-made Model 1895 Mauser rifles or short rifles for $375 to $900 each. But as of December, the prevailing prices are ranging between $700 and $2,000.
  • In January, I was finding pre-1899 Winchester Model 1894 saddle ring carbines for $1,000 to $1,800 each. But as of December, the prevailing prices are ranging between $2,000 and $4,000.
  • In January, I was finding pre-1899 Finnish M39 Mosin Nagant short rifles for $600 to $1,200 each. But as of December, the prevailing prices are ranging between $900 and $2,100.

Predictions for 2021 and Beyond:

We can safely assume that gun sales in calendar year 2021 will be just as strong as 2020, and possibly much stronger. Given Joe Biden’s age and frail health, I expect to see Harris succeed Biden within 18 months. Plan on at least four years of a Democrat in the White House, and possibly much longer, given their proven skill at vote-rigging. That will mean 4+ years of gun, magazine, and ammunition shortages.  Sort supplies always lead to higher prices. So we can safely anticipate those prices to exceed the prevailing consumer price inflation. Plan (and invest), accordingly.

As of this writing, the big unanswered question is whether or not the two Republican U.S. Senate candidates will prevail in the January 5th runoff election, in Georgia. If those two seats instead go to Democrats, then that will result in a 50/50 split in the Senate, with the tie votes broken by the President of the Senate: The Vice President of the United States. And odds are, that will be none other than the extreme leftist Democrat Kamala Harris. Needless to say, she has a horrendously anti-gun record.

Some Suggestions

So here is my advice:  If on January 5th the two Senate seats in Georgia go to the Democrats, then you should immediately take any extra cash and buy magazines. Buy lots of 20+ round magazines!  This is because one of the top legislative priorities for the Democrats will be a ban on new production for civilian sale of any magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds.  That will drive the price of “high capacity” magazines through the roof. Specifically, I recommend buying the following magazines as an investment, even if you do not yet own the corresponding guns:

  • Glock factory 33-round 9mm magazines
  • Glock factory 17-round 9mm magazines
  • MagPul 22-round Glock-compatible 9mm magazines
  • SIG factory P320 20-round 9mm magazines
  • MagPul PMAG 30 round and 40-Round AR-15 polymer magazines
  • Full military specification 30 round M16 alloy magazines
  • Ruger factory 30-round Mini-14 magazines
  • Ruger factory 25-round .22LR BX-25 (Ruger 10/22) magazines
  • Kel-Tec PMR30 30-round .22 Magnum pistol magazines
  • U.S.GI. M1 Carbine 15-round and 30-round magazines
  • and, perhaps, some full military specification 30-round and 40-Round AK47 steel magazines

Don’t worry if you can’t immediately find the magazines that you need for all of the guns in your current collection. You can use any extras from the list above to later trade for what you need. When you buy barterable magazines, then you’ll be almost immune from subsequent price rises. You’ll already have plenty of “in demand” full capacity magazines. You’ll be able to trade your extra mags for the exact types that you need. Problem solved. Your barter stash is inflation-proof.

Buy ammunition to match all of the guns in your collection whenever you find it reasonably priced. Buy plenty of ammo cans to keep that ammo safe and dry. Stack them deep, preferably in several locations — in case of burglary.

With the assumption that Biden and Harris will take office, if your state law allows it, I also recommend investing in private party pistols and black rifles, specifically:

  • AR-15 variants, preferably with 16″ barrels, from any of the better “name” makers
  • SIG P320 pistols or serialized trigger group modules
  • Glock Model 19 pistols
  • Springfield Armory Hellcat 9mm pistols
  • Stripped AR-15 and AR-10 lowers
  • Original HK91 or HK93 Rifles
  • Original HK SP5 pistols (HK MP5 semi-auto clone)
  • AK-47 clones from any of the better “name” makers
  • M1A rifles made by Springfield Armory or Fulton Armory
  • IWI X95 Tavor bullpup rifles

I believe that the biggest shortages in 2021 will be magazines, complete M4-style AR rifle uppers, and AR rifle barrels with threaded muzzles. The AR barrel market will be driven into a frenzy by the BATF’s latest absurd letter that could result in a de facto ban on most  AR pistols with braces.  (That letter was rescinded a few days ago, but the word from inside the beltway is that a more refined version will be published soon after  Biden is sworn in.) Faced with the alternatives of destroying their braces, doing a Federal SBR registration, or switching barrels, I predict that the majority of AR pistol owners will want to swap (or extend) their barrels. Thus, there will be a big shortage of complete 16″ barrel rifle uppers and 16″ barrels for retrofits. And simultaneously, the “XM177 style” 5.5-inch flash hiders will be in great demand, so that people can add length to their arm braced ARs. That will legally turn a 10.5″ barrel AR pistol into a 16″ barrel rifle. Note that to make any barrel extension legal, it would have to bring the barrel’s length to at least 16 inches and that it must be either welded-on or attached with high-temperature silver solder.

Lastly, don’t panic. If Biden and Harris take office then things will look grim, especially in the first six months. Just stock up as best you can. Position yourself to be ready to barter. If you have the guns, ammo, and magazines that people are looking for, then you’ll be able to barter for just about anything.

Keep in mind that nearly all Federal gun laws have Grandfather Clauses. So you’ll be able to keep what you have.

Trust in God, and keep your powder dry. – JWR


SurvivalBlog and its Editors are not paid investment counselors or advisers. Please see our Provisos page for our detailed disclaimers.


    1. Remember, all Glock double stack mags – of equal caliber – fit so long as its the larger size. So if you have a Glock 19, 17 or 26 then a Glock 17 magazine will work in all three models BUT your 26 mags wont fit into 19/17 and likewise 19’s wont work in a 17 (too short).

      For my Glock 19 I but 17 mags so they are worth more “in the event”…..

  1. Spare Parts for weapons as well. Don’t listen to the “muh AK never breaks” crowd. It’s a mechanical device and mechanical devices will fail at the most inopportune times. Buy spare parts and keep them running.

    1. Define “fight”.
      If it’s “political” then that’s already been ongoing for me since the early 90s. Welcome to the party. Buying mags and spare parts is part of that. They plan to stop the sale of them so by having enough you ensure a running weapon until we turn the tide again. As for JWR’s article it’s on economics and how to make a little money.
      If it’s “physical” then the real question is why are you talking this way on the internet in an open forum? Be smart and/or quit setting others up for a fall because they say the wrong thing.

  2. Biden’s plan is a $200 tax on each gun and each magazine. Most won’t comply but it begs the question when is enough enough? When will we the people actually stop tolerating the overbearing federal government?

    1. Reasonably, which is a dangerous concept in today’s world, it would be difficult to impose such a tax and paperwork (like SBR or suppressors) BUT if they did have this deemed reasonable without a Grandfather Clause it would take years….. Years… and I don’t think LEOs in most states (Commifornia – Illinois – NY are excluded) would take the time to try a cite you when everyone would be given a time period to register and receive a reply. Such a time period would allow for another law to replace this law and make those items allowable without registry.

  3. Part of me keeps thinking that we won’t see anti-gun legislation from Biden. I think we will see regulation changes from the ATF. Why do I say that? Given that the Dems had the house, the senate and the White House what did they do as far as gun control??

    As far as a grandfather clause that is great for me but what about my kids and future generations?

    1. I tend to agree. I suspect many politicians are avoiding firearms legislation altogether. Even when the “so-called” Republicans held the house, senate, and presidency, nothing was done to restore our gun rights. But my fears have always been that the Democrats would follow through on their promises and that the Republicans would not.

      Sadly, my dad passed the week before Christmas. His entire “arsenal” consisted of a Colt 1908 pistol with about 20 rounds of ammunition that appeared to be about he same age as the firearm. No, it’s not for sale.

    2. You WILL see gun legislation by executive order or by statute if senate is lost. The question is how far will they try to take it?

      Considering the current high crime in the United States, and virtually no effort to curb it, any new major gun laws will be a clear indication that the motives are political and dictatorial.

      That should be the flash point if there is going to be one. The government should realize that when millions of gun owners are declared felons they might act like felons because a felony will mean nothing.

    3. Hey 3ADscout,

      “As far as a grandfather clause that is great for me but what about my kids and future generations?”

      For them the other grandfather clause will apply: Grandpa better have lots of G & A to pass down to the kids and grandkids.

  4. 1) My understanding is that the 5th Amendment would require the government to pay you for any magazines or guns they tried to confiscate — and getting Congress to approve such funding would be an obstacle.

    2) However, it would be much easier for the government to make it illegal for you to SELL your property.

    3) And FDR’s confiscation of gold showed that the government can sometimes say that the market value of property is whatever it says it is. And that if it makes the property illegal to own then the property by definition is worth very little.

    4) I don’t disagree with Mr Rawles’s suggestions — just noting that if things get really bad some things may only be traded on a black market.

    1. Don:

      Re: “My understanding is that the 5th Amendment would require the government to pay you for any magazines or guns they tried to confiscate — and getting Congress to approve such funding would be an obstacle.”

      I wouldn’t count on this. Bump stocks went away in a hurry with no grandfather clause or compensation. Magazines or AR pistols could fall into the same crack.

      1. Normally, under American jurisprudence there cannot be a “taking” without compensation. The bump stock ban –with no compensation — only affected about 150,000 owners. But there are 3.5 million+ AR/AK/etc. pistol arm braces in circulation. And magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds? Holy moly! There are hundreds of millions of them in private hands. (Probably 200 million+ if you were to count ONLY M1/M2 Carbine and M16/M4/AR-15 magazines.) And machine gun belt links? Probably several hundred million. Bidens’s plan calls for each “magazine” to be registered, with a background check, fingerprinting, and a $200 transfer tax stamp. So tell, Mr. Creepy Joe, how are you going to register machinegun belt links? Most of those belts use what are called disintegrating links. They are reusable. Is a registration voided if the belt is shot and falls apart into 100 separate links? Once someone reassembles another 11+ round belt from used links does that then become another “magazine” to register? There’s a real Puzzler for you, Mr. Dictator.

  5. How would you suggest acquiring firearms from your recommended list if we live in a state that doesn’t allow private party transfers? Are we to travel to states that allow it?

    1. Unfortunately, that would violate Federal law, if the gun were made on or after January 1st, 1899. So buying pre-1899 guns is about your only legal “paperless” option.

      You’d have to consult your State and local laws, but you MIGHT be able to legally acquire and then complete an 80% receiver.

      1. Ok, I’m good with finishing my own. Where does one find retail outlets to buy 80% products using cash? The one retailer in my area I was aware of pulled all their inventory when Polymer 80 was raided.

        1. Consult your state and local laws before buying.

          Your best bet is to find 80% lowers are gun shops in Nevada or Arizona.

          Keep in mind that any post-1898 finished receiver or a complete gun –whether rifle or pistol– is a felony to buy out of state as a private party, under Federal law. That has been the law since 1968.

    2. A friend of mine who’s isn’t a big fan of anti-2A laws and considers them unconstitutional, and who thinks about probabilities a lot is wondering: since it would be a paperless transfer, and there aren’t border guards between states, what are the probabilities of anyone finding out if strict OPSEC is followed when he gets home? This same friend is thinking about doing some target practice while out of state making the purchase so he can say he was just doing some plinking with an out-of-state friend to cover for the one-in-a-million chance he gets pulled over for a traffic violation and they search his car.

      Another friend of a friend bought a 9 mm pistol from a private individual at a gun show in another state and didn’t realize until he got home that out of staters can’t purchase pistols and take them back home. Was that a state law or a federal law?

    3. West Coaster
      Another legal way to achieve your goals.
      1. Go east young man and rent a property in a neighboring state, every one next to you has pretty free gun laws.
      2. Go down and change your drivers license to that state.
      3. You are now a “dual citizen” with citizenship in both states. If you buy property in the 2nd state you don’t even have to change your license, you are still a dual citizen as recongnized by the Brady law that started the background checks.
      4. To purchase a firearm in your new state, take your drivers license to the local FFL dealer and purchase a gun. If you decide to purchase property you take your out of state license and your property tax bill with your CURRENT PHYSICAL ADDRESS in the new state, and you can purchase a gun. (both long and handguns)

      I sell guns to California/Montana dual residents all the time, perfectly legal.

      P.S I don’t know which state you live in but it would most likely be illegal to take those guns to the left coast.

      P.S.S. as a dual citizen you can do private party transfers too in the 2nd state if legal.

      Good Luck

  6. You guys just need to look North to see how anti-gun legislation can work, or not work as the case may be. But once it’s put in place it basically makes any gun owner a criminal, simply waiting for the government to either try and steal your property, or arrest you.

    Your gun grabbers have both New Zealand and Canada to show them how to do the legislation, or even by using an executive order (Order in Council up here). An amnesty is offered to keep the general public from revolting. It gives them time to find ways around the laws, or the Constitution. And grandfathering is never guaranteed. And they have had both Wendy Cuiker, and Heidi Rathjen to consult with.

    DO NOT depend on laws, or a piece of paper to protect you. The left does not follow the laws. Unlike people of the conservative persuasion, who tend to be law abiding, the left will lie, cheat and steal to accomplish their ends. They will violate the laws of the land, and the laws of God, knowing that once they win that they can spin it any way they want using the media and social media. “The victors write the history books.”

  7. My thoughts after reading today’s post:

    Harris won’t be taking over. She’ll be kept highly visible as a red herring to keep people distracted and agitated.

    Sleepy Joe will be kept on robust life support so the Puppeteers will continue to integrate their agendas and globalize, snickering as we watch the vegetable and they run the world.

    The major assaults will be upon your income and wealth, not directly on taking our 2A inventory. Their goal, which is succeeding now, is to negate the value of 2A items to influence power.

    The more they can convince you to lock it up, bury it, hide it, lose it in boating accidents, make your actions reflect fear of loss, are statements that you know you are losing the fight.

    Think about how you can instead take winning actions. Then engage.

    The gold locked in banks ‘safe deposit boxes’ in 1934? Was it safe? Not even under State sovereignty.

    When state workers, who know they are acting against the sovereign laws by creating and acting under Regulations and Advisories, actively refuse to follow those illegal edicts, that is when we legally win. What are you doing now to make that condition?

    Strength means little unless the enemy fears it, and in our society where rats quickly attack each other, you all need to incite that action more than tripling your stockage, so do BOTH. Make them fear acting with bad behavior.

  8. JWR,

    Could you please explain your inclusion of the IWI X95 to the acquire list?
    I have been seriously considering it myself, but have friends that argue another AR is better. I always value your logical and reasoned opinions.
    Also, 16″ or 18″ barrel?


    1. Because they are assembled in the U.S. the Tavors are not considered an “imported” gun. They are a very handy size. With an 18″ barrel, you have a compact carbine with an overall length that is still about 6″ shorter than an M4gery with a 16″ barrel.

  9. If there is only 1 takeaway from the year 2020- It’s that the US is officially no longer a nation of laws. Our masters can close your business on a whim outside of law and openly steal a national election. What makes anyone think that any existing law, firearm or other, is safe from dictatorial edict? This year Americans have given Washington DC (Beijing annex West) the greenlight to abuse us however they choose.

  10. I was at the Bass Pro mothership last week at the right time… they had 9mm and 5.56 federal in small ammo cans. $250 for 400 rounds in the can and $0.29 per round of Herter 9mm. Also concerning was the lack of normal gauge target shotgun shells. Thank heavens I stocked up last year!

  11. Herter’s is a brand name owned by Cabelas (now Bass Pro)

    If you have older boxes that are red and black they were made by Sellier and Bellot and was very good ammo for plinkers.

    Currently they are in brown and black boxes and are loaded by Winchester, I would compare them to Winchester white box ammo

    Background checks where I work are around 20% CWP which won’t show up on the NICS figures.

    Thanks JR for reminding me about magazines, I have a tote full but I should consider them again for an investment.

    1. Beware the Herters shotgun ammo if you use an over and under with extractors. I’ve had several problems with their 12ga target ammo getting jammed after slipping past the extractors. It seems the lip depth on the brass is slightly less than other brands.

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