The Column, No. 137:

Ammo Shortage: Three More Years!

By Randy Wakeman

The ammunition shortage is poised to continue for at least three more years.

The key component in ammunition is nitrocellulose, used in everything from ping-pong balls to ink and wood coatings. Dow Chemical writes, “Nitrocellulose is an excellent cellulose derivative and is also known as cellulose nitrate . WALSRODER™ Nitrocellulose and WALSRODER™ NC-Chips are predominantly used as binders in printing inks and wood coatings, but also in a wide variety of other coatings applications. Dow offers various product forms and viscosities of nitrocellulose under the WALSRODER™ Nitrocellulose brand.” It is used to coat guitars and in nail polish. In small quantities, crude nitrocellulose (gun cotton) can be made easily at home.

However, there are very few manufacturers of industrial or munitions grade nitrocellulose. Radford is the heart of the U.S. ammunition industrial base. All the U.S. armed services are dependent on the products that come from the plant -- not just the U.S. Army, which owns the facility. The Radford plant is a unique facility. It alone among the 14 existing plants of the U.S. ammunition-producing industrial base has an acid-concentrator facility that produces the nitric and sulfuric acids that, when combined with cellulose in a one-of-a-kind facility at Radford, make nitrocellulose, the essential ingredient for all propellants and explosives used throughout the U.S. Army's ammunition industrial base.

Chemical plants are extremely expensive to build and generally work at a fixed output. As best as can be discerned, most are at full production levels and in times past, that has resulted in an ample supply with generally a surplus of product in warehouses. Over the years, when there has been a spike in demand, it has just shrunk preexisting inventory levels with no noticeable impact to the consumer.

The Obama administration changed all that, creating unprecedented demand for firearms lasting for an unprecedented length. It was not helped by the American consumer who normally buys a few boxes of ammo. As soon as we can't get it, we want pallets of it. Whether Hostess Twinkies or shotshells, if we can't get it, then we really want it, and lots of it.

Ammo manufacturers have production capacities as well and can hardly build new plants and make huge expenditures in capital equipment only to be forced to mothball them a couple of years later. So, they juggle production schedules and try to please the most people that they can. It means that while .30-06 or .308 isn't a problem, if you want factory ammo for the “323 Super-Snorter,” you're out of luck. Rimfire is a large number, but low profit segment. You can always get .22 rimfire, but just not what many people want: the milk-jug bulk plinking ammo and so forth.

Now, with the Brandon Administration in office for three more years, the situation is even more of a mess. On top of the fixed level of nitrocellulose output, we have upwards of 12,000,000 first time gun owners. Between January 2019 and April 2021, 7.5 million Americans became first-time gun owners: That includes 2.4 million in 2019, 3.8 million in 2020, and 1.3 million in the first four months of 2021. Approximately one-fifth of Americans who purchased guns last year were first-time buyers, according to new preliminary data from Northeastern University and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. The NSSF estimates approximately 11 million first time gun owners in the last two years alone. 

The data also showed increases in the overall number of gun buyers and the total number of gun owners in the U.S. Of the first-time buyers recorded in 2020, half were women, a fifth were Black and a fifth were Hispanic, according to The New York Times, which reported on the new data. The Brandon / Biden Bureaucracy that has given approval to no cash bail, defund the police, and open borders has jolted the common American man and woman to realize that the Federal government has never been responsible for the safety of its citizens, and they have become less responsible (irresponsible) and less accountable (unaccountable) than ever before.

Many millions of Americans, more women, Hispanics, and Blacks now understand that socialism does not care for the individual. The saying, “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have,” has been used by Barry Goldwater and Gerald Ford. Governor Harold W. Handley of Indiana used it in his annual message to the Indiana General Assembly in 1961. Isn't it the straight truth?

The good people of Illinois have learned not to trust government. Former Illinois governor Dan Walker (I), former Illinois governor George Ryan (R), ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D) all have something in common: they became convicted felons. Dan Walker was imprisoned for fraud and perjury, George Ryan was imprisoned on Federal fraud charges, Rod Blagojevich was imprisoned for corruption. Relying on tainted, corrupt, elected officials to safeguard the fundamental rights of the American citizen is beyond simple foolhardiness and naivete. History have proven this redundantly and unfailingly: it isn't just Illinois, it is ubiquitous across the United States.

Conventional supply chains are tapped out. For decades, the United States has relied on propellant from Australia, hulls from France, and tungsten from China. Nickel and zinc are now deemed critical minerals by the United States. Only one domestic operating nickel mine in the United States remains, the Eagle mine in Michigan. 83% of domestic zinc consumption is imported, according to the USGS. Nickel and zinc may not spring to mind as critical minerals, but as far as the United States is concerned, they both are. Both are heavily used in ammunition production. Even blackpowder enthusiasts are in trouble, for back in September, 2021, Hodgdon Powder Company announced it would cease manufacturing operations at the GOEX blackpowder manufacturing facility in Camp Minden, La., effective immediately. This eliminated the only domestic source of blackpowder in the United States.

Labor shortages, paper and pallet shortages, truck driver shortages all affect getting product distributed to you, long after it is made. It doesn't do much good to make the stuff if you have no ability to package and ship it. The ammunition industry is not immune increased raw material costs, increased energy costs, labor shortages, and dramatically increased transportation costs.

What of more foreign imported loaded ammo? Well, the McBrandon Administration has this thing about the two countries that actually could quickly, significantly supply the United States: China and Russia, so that is that. I used to use both Chinese and Russian ammo, but while Joe Brandon isn't worried about the southern border of the United States, despite Hunter Biden's laptop, we (government) are far more concerned about the borders that are not ours. Chinese chips, gym shoes, clothing, solar panels, optics, and batteries are okay, but ammunition is a camel-toe no-no. 

Smart people quickly learn to acquire the ability to defend their families and themselves. Americans are rapidly getting smarter and the smarter they get, the longer the ammunition shortage will continue. While the Joe Brandon Administration may prefer to keep women, Blacks, and Hispanics defenseless, more and more citizens prefer not to become victims. A government incapable of protecting senior citizens in nursing homes or citizens stranded in Afghanistan can hardly be blindly relied upon to always look out for our Liberty, much less our best interests.

The ammo shortage will continue for three years, or longer. With inflation coupled with nickel, copper, and zinc demand (increased by the battery-car foisted on the U.S.), we can all expect higher prices yet, and there is no evidence that shortages can be addressed by current production capacities.

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