One of the key aspects of sanctions is that, in order for them to be most effective, they are supposed to harm the target of the sanctions. And perhaps more importantly, they’re not supposed to harm people who aren’t the target of the sanctions. In the case of the most recent sanctions against Russia, the Biden administration has completely missed the mark.
The timing of the sanctions is the first thing that raises suspicions, as it seems at first glance an attempt to try to deflect attention away from Biden’s horrendous mishandling of the crisis in Afghanistan. On the anniversary of the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition politician Aleksey Navalny, the administration decided to impose sanctions on Russia by banning the importation of Russian firearms and ammunition, effective September 7th.
The sanctions are supposed to remain in effect for at least 12 months, and will only be lifted if Russia fulfills a number of requirements that the Russian government likely won’t agree to. So the effect is that these sanctions will likely be permanent.
How exactly that is supposed to harm the Russian government is unclear. That’s particularly the case since an estimated 40-45% of all ammunition sold in the US comes from Russia.
Most American gun owners are familiar with brands such as Tulammo, Wolf, Barnaul, and Golden Tiger that feature steel-cased ammunition in calibers such as 7.62x39, 5.45x39, 7.62x54R, and 9x18mm Makarov. But Russian steel-cased ammunition in other calibers such as 9mm Luger, .223 Remington, .308 Winchester, and .30 Carbine is also popular in the US.
For gun owners who don’t reload, Russian steel-cased ammunition in many cases can be half the price of American-made ammunition, or even foreign-made brass-cased ammunition. That allows them to shoot twice as much for the same amount of money. At least until now.
The immediate reaction to the news was a round of panic-buying of Russian ammunition, at a time when ammo prices were just starting to come down after the Great Ammo Shortage of 2020-21. Most online sellers were sold out within hours, and any remaining stocks of ammo have skyrocketed in price. And of course, with such a major source of ammunition now gone, prices on remaining non-Russian and brass-cased ammunition are going to rise.
The effect will be far more severe on American gun owners than on the Russian government. We can hope that eventually other countries will step into the breech and supply enough ammunition to the US market, but that will take time, potentially years. In the meantime, US gun owners will once again suffer as a result of misguided US foreign policy that won’t actually achieve its stated aims.