In case you haven’t noticed, zombies are a really hot cultural icon at the moment. If this focus was purely a matter of entertainment, I would find it a bit bizarre, but no more weird than the romantic vampire theme that seems to have taken hold of the imagination of teenaged girls. Ammunition manufacturers are even cashing in on this, with Hornady offering Zombie Max in a number of the common handgun, rifle, and shotgun calibers. I would like to be amused, but I think this reflects a very serious issue—and one that the political class is ignoring to their peril.
Americans are arming in a really big way—and not for plinking or hunting. FBI background checks for firearms sales hit 1.266 million in February, “a gain of 31.4 per cent over the same month in 2011.” At least some of those background checks were for people buying more than one gun at a time. Many of these are going to first time gun owners. Publicly traded gun manufacturers, such as Sturm, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson, are flying high (to my pleasure, since I own shares of both). Sturm, Ruger actually had to announce that it was no longer accepting new firearms orders, because it was so backlogged with existing demand. The ammunition shortages that we saw in 2008 and 2009, seem to be returning—at least based on the number of categories of ammunition showing up as “Out of Stock” at Cheaper Than Dirt! At least Obama can make some part of the U.S. economy grow!
What is driving this enormous demand? Guns are either an essential tool, or a luxury item. For some Americans, that first gun, whether it is a rifle or a handgun, is something you buy because you live in a bad neighborhood, and need protection. People may sacrifice a bit to buy their first gun, as I did when I bought a Colt Government Model handgun in 1981. Normally, this volume of sales would make sense only in a very strong economy, or when people were not worried about their jobs. But in this economy? And with murder rates as low as they were in the early 1960s? Americans are worried—and with these sales numbers, I think the zombie fixation and the gun buying mania are telling us something—something that is a bit worrisome.
My theory is that the focus on zombie apocalypse is how decent, law-abiding Americans confront a very dark fear: the collapse of American civilization. Zombie movies put individuals up against merciless savages where there is no one to rely upon but yourself. There is no government. There is little to no community left—just you and a few friends against monsters. I suspect that the possibility of economic collapse, as the national budget disaster spirals out of control, has a lot of people scared witless. I don’t think this is subconscious, but a polite way for Americans to speak their fears in a way that sounds cute, instead of paranoid.
It is also apparent that fear of what the second Obama Administration will do with respect to gun control is driving much of the gun-buying frenzy. If gun owners were a tiny minority (like Jews in Nazi Germany), I supposed that I could understand the sense of, “I have no other solution but to stock up and prepare for a police state.” But the scale of these purchases tells me that gun ownership is extremely mainstream, and likely about to cross over into majority status, if it has not already. More than 1.2 million gun sales a month means more than 14 million a year and guns are not consumables.
If fear of Obama’s possible gun control actions, or of the coming budget apocalypse, is driving this, why does Obama have any chance to getting re-elected at all in November? Perhaps many Americans have bought into the nihilist bumper sticker, “If voting changed anything, it would be illegal.” I certainly run into many well-paid professionals who have stopped voting because they have concluded that we are beyond the point where elections can fix anything. Or perhaps, like zombies, they are expecting the graveyards of Chicago to disgorge so many dead voters that it won’t matter who really wins in November, anyway.
All of this has me quite fearful for my country. If you can cough up $500 for another gun, or $25 for a couple of boxes of ammunition, can you cough up $25 to help some candidate for Congress who isn’t corrupt enough to get money from PACs? If you can spend several hours burning through 500 rounds of ammunition to get proficient with your new Ruger LCP, can you spend an hour voting in November to unseat Obama?