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 GunBroker.com, Guns.com, and GunsAmerica.com 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!
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.
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
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