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"There Are No Bullets for Sale"

We recently received an e-mail from one Glenn Harris in response to our “How to Think About Guns” podcast. He is right — we should do a podcast episode or book chapter on hoarding. It is certainly a great topic, especially in that economists see hoarding (and price gouging) very differently than most regular people (a point I touched on here). Anyway, below is Glenn’s e-mail. The subject line was “There are no bullets in the United States …”

…for sale that is.


I’m interested in hoarding behavior, its economic impacts, and the freak’s point of view. 

I live in New York.  When hurricane Sandy came along the top-of-the-list item my friends with children hoarded was milk.  They gave no thought to the fact that the probability that they would lose power and the milk would spoil.  Over one million homes lost power and surprise, perishable foods spoiled.  The post-storm hoarding behavior quickly moved to gasoline.  There was plenty of gasoline in the northeast but no electricity to pump it out of the ground.  The result was a run on the gas stations that did have power.  The ability to hoard gasoline is clearly limited by one’s ability to store it.  With gas cans quickly selling out drivers waited in lines for hours just to top off their tanks with a few gallons. 

The damage in the northeast was extensive.  Many roads and businesses were closed so there really was nowhere to go.  And children can sustain life without cow’s milk quite nicely.  I survived our last five extended power outages with half a tank of gas and no milk.

What really annoys me about hoarding behavior is that now it affects me.  I’m a target shooter and recently purchased a .22 rifle for my girlfriend so we can enjoy the time and sport together (a .22 is an extremely small caliber rifle used by Olympic and competitive shooters; you are not going to defend yourself from the zombie apocalypse with a bolt-action .22).  What I cannot get for her is ammunition.  There is absolutely no .22 ammunition available in the United States.  I challenge you to search the web and find a legitimate seller.  Imagine that.  Even illegal drugs are available in abundance in the United States but not many calibers of bullets.  The strict Rockefeller drug laws in New York State have done nothing to stem supply of illegal drugs but the possibility of gun legislation has caused retail inventories to vanish.  Is it that gun enthusiasts are so law-abiding that just the threat of a new limit to their ability to purchase ammunition is enough to drive behavior and that drug users neglect the law that legislation does not have an impact on their behavior?

There is everything from the conspiracy theories to a forecasted Sandy storm of gun legislation.  What interests me is both.  How a threat, real or perceived, causes people in one case to hoard milk, gas, and bullets and in another case (drugs) to continue with business as usual.

I’d love to read about this in one of your books or hear about it on the podcast.