According to its recent press release, the National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers (NASGW) reported a 168 percent spike in ammunition shipments for the week ending March 14, 2020. We saw images of lines stretching around the block at gun and sporting goods stores as buyers — many of them first-time buyers — desperately tried to get their hands on a firearm and ammunition before the store ran out or the local government declared that it was “closing time” and everyone had to go home.

Why do we see this during emergencies, almost to the point of predictability?

Crises Make Some People More Reasonable

Not to state the obvious, but firearms and ammunition are just handy to have around during an emergency. Even if you were raised in an anti-gun household in an anti-gun city, as soon as the sheriff and the mayor start talking about reduced patrols and releasing inmates from the jail, it doesn’t take a criminologist to surmise that your area is about to get less safe. All of the feel-good platitudes you grew up with about how “guns are bad” go out the window when your local government announces that it does not intend to do what you thought your taxes were paying it to do. In short, some people finally internalize that, like it or not, they are responsible for their own safety.

Crises Make Some People Less Reasonable

Some people will do whatever they can to get to the front of any line. I’ve seen people with no children rush out to buy several gallons of milk because they heard that “everyone else” was doing so before a blizzard hit. I’ve seen people buy AR-15s even though they’d never even thought about whether they wanted one, but “Obama just got elected” and therefore “everyone’s buying them.” These are often the same people who got caught up in the Cabbage Patch Kids craze in the 1980s, the Beanie Babies craze in the 1990s and pretty much every other craze anyone’s been able to loop them in on since.

Self-Defense Isn’t Top of Mind … Until It Is

As a little kid, I never understood why there was always a run on plywood when a hurricane was only a few hours out from landfall. When I asked him, my father explained to me just how many people moved to Florida every year. “They just got there,” he explained. “They’ve had so many other things to worry about that they probably thought they’d buy the plywood if they had to, but it wasn’t high on their list of priorities.” The simple fact is that self-defense just wasn’t on a lot of people’s radars. Even more so, all of the rigmarole a state like California puts otherwise free persons through just to get a firearm and ammunition can seem like too much trouble until the use of said equipment seems almost impending.

‘It’s Not Like It’ll Go Bad’

Ammunition is a physical, tangible store of value. And I’m not even talking about bartering or any other “end of the world” weirdness. Just like at the grocery store, if you know it’s something you use and it’s currently on sale, stock up. Especially if you were the kind of shooter who never kept more than a few boxes of ammunition on hand, what’s the harm in ducking into the gun shop to buy a 1,000-round bulk box of 9mm ball? As long as you keep it dry, that ammo will surely still be good in 20, 40 or even 100 years. So if you can swing it, it seems silly NOT to have a few thousand rounds for each firearm. It’s just that (as we all got to watch once again) the best time to take care of that is not when a few million other people have the same plan on the same day.

Remember the T.P. Lines?

Like toilet paper, ammunition is difficult to improvise (though admittedly more so) and is consumed through its use. Both have extremely tangible, real-world applications. Everyone knows that they should have bleach and water purification chemicals in the house, but plenty of people don’t even know how or when to properly use either. EVERYONE knows what toilet paper and ammo are for. Whether we’re talking about “all-purpose paper” or cartridges, as soon as it seems possible that whatever you have in your residence is what you’ll have to make do with for the next few months, everything can change very quickly.

Keep It in Perspective

When you see long lines for guns and ammunition, it isn’t a sign of “the end times” or “a coming civil war” or any of that silliness. It is a reminder that some people’s heads clear when harsh realities are laid bare. And some people’s heads fly almost completely off of their bodies. It is a reminder that crises can make stoics out of terminal optimists and that modern-manufacture ammunition is up there with fuel in your vehicle’s tank and food in your pantry as far as “wise investments” go. And it is a reminder that when all of the nonsense is stripped away — when we’re no longer talking about television shows or gossiping about people we’ve never even met — it is a sign that some people, even for a fleeting moment, have reconnected with reality and are acting like responsible adults again.

Stay alert, stay focused, invest wisely and stay safe.