What the Nationwide Bullet Shortage Says About Our Brains

Image via Donklephant

Image via Donklephant

In the interest of full disclosure — I’m a gun owner. I’ve owned a variety of handguns and rifles, enjoy target shooting, and support the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns for self defense and sporting purposes.

With that said, I must admit to being alarmed by news of an unprecedented nationwide ammunition shortage. Bullets are being bought and hoarded at a rate manufactures can’t sustain. Major retailers like Wal-mart have even had to implement limits on ammo purchases. The National Rifle Association estimates that more than two billion more rounds of ammo will be sold this year than last year.

This mad rush comes on the heels of astronomical gun sales. According to the AP, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System reported that 6.1 million background checks for gun sales were issued from January to May, an increase of 25.6 percent from the same period the year before.

You’ll immediately notice what that time frame lines up with.  As soon as Obama was elected, the fear meme kicked into high gear, and by the time he assumed office it had taken hold like a python on a pig.

If fear was a product, we could say that the early adopters bought it first. They were already sold back when it seemed remotely conceivable that Obama could be elected. Their numbers grew until critical mass was reached, and then the mania started spilling over into a larger audience. Once the fear meme proliferated more broadly, visceral reaction overpowered thoughtful consideration. That in his first nine months in office Obama hasn’t lifted a finger to ban guns or ammo doesn’t matter. That he actually did much the opposite by signing a law allowing people to carry loaded weapons in national parks doesn’t matter. The fear meme has infected enough brains with the message that Obama and the Democrats in Congress are determined to take away our rights and woe to those who aren’t prepared.

Why are we so easily persuaded that the worst is bound to happen?  For insight into this question, I turn to Richard Brodie, author of the best-selling book on memetics, Virus of the Mind. Brodie defines “meme” as follows:

A meme is a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.

On his website, Meme Central, Brodie talks about a “memetic tool” often used in marketing and advertising called FUD, which stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.  Our brains, it seems, are especially susceptible to FUD. Quoting Brodie:

Virus of the Mind puts forth one hypothesis of why we are so oversensitive to scary situations: because thousands and millions of years ago, the creatures that got scared and ran away got to live another day. If you can get your customers to think the other guy’s product is dangerous, the logic goes, you make use of their natural tendency to run away from danger into your welcoming arms.

In this case, if you can convince people that the new administration is determined to take away their guns, you can catalyze panic, even among people who are normally level headed. I can’t imagine that gun manufacturers are complaining, nor the NRA, which is seeing a spike in membership — nor, for that matter, news outlets that cater to alarmism.

I think this particular self-feeding manipulation is dangerous on a couple of levels.  First, and most obvious, it’s disturbing to think that significantly more guns and ammo will be in circulation, some of which will certainly fall into the hands of criminals. I recognize that most will not, but it just stands to reason that if you increase the pool of armaments, the percentage that will end up in the wrong hands will increase as well. It’s a matter of simple economics:  supply plus incentive.

Second, it’s even more alarming to see, yet again, an example of our fragile psyches so easily set on panic mode. Nearly a year has passed since Obama was elected, ample time to get a sense of his direction and intentions, and we haven’t seen anything to indicate that he’s interested in taking away law-abiding citizens’ guns. If anything, he seems to be more supportive of gun ownership than previously thought.

But that won’t stop the FUD mongers, and it unfortunately won’t dissuade otherwise rational people from losing their minds.


2 thoughts on “What the Nationwide Bullet Shortage Says About Our Brains

  1. David,

    I agree that some of the increases in guns an ammunition can be attributed to FUD and some sort of panic.

    However, there is considerable evidence from Mr. Obama that he is opposed to gun ownership and favors increased regulations. He’s been quoted as being against concealed carrying permits. Mr. Obama has also been quoted saying he wants to increase monitoring and limit sales.

    While the new administration hasn’t done anything in the first nine months in office, that could be due to the fact they’ve been busy with bailouts, car companies, banks, loans, health care and global warming.

    I suspect that gun control is on the agenda, and given the size of the other projects already underway, health care as an example, I think we can expect considerable changes be suggested.

    As a side note, its great to see that Americans are out shopping and buying goods, such as firearms and ammunition, especially during these difficult financial times.

  2. It is a gut reaction I think. I haven’t gone out to buy a gun, but the audio of Candidate Obama talking to fundraisers and characterizing middle America as those who cling to their guns and their Bibles (or was it the other way around?) is something that impressed me as an insight into President Obama’s mind, given that it was a comment delivered in an unguarded moment and was unfiltered like a speech is.

    I think that the unease actually started with the rumor that was going around that bullets were going to be scarce because the Bush Administration’s Homeland Security had ordered some two billion bullets, and that rumor had people asking WHY does homeland security need that many bullets?

    I think that the panic was already cultivated and the seeds planted well before Mr. Obama became president.

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