With fears that the global pandemic could result in civil unrest, gun sales have catapulted. New York State Assemblyman David Buchwald and gun safety expert Andy Pelosi recently addressed how the coronavirus may be impacting gun safety and gun violence, given the rise in gun sales and the potential for increased risk of in-home gun violence.
The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought communities across the nation under a multitude of pressures – hospitals are overflowing, unable to accommodate patients, grocery stores are wiped clean of paper products and disinfectant wipes and many local businesses are struggling to remain financially afloat. However, as the virus becomes ever-more present in our daily lives, we have witnessed a spike in the numbers of people reaching for a perceived sense of security through gun ownership.
As Americans flock to gun stores in response to fears about the coronavirus, many dealers are reporting a massive increase in gun sales across the U.S. According to a New York Times analysis of federal data, approximately 2 million guns were sold across the country during the month of March. That’s the second highest monthly total ever recorded only after January 2013–a month after the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Pelosi is the Executive Director of The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus, a non-profit advocacy group working to keep families, students, and communities safe from gun violence. “Just like the pandemic, gun issues and gun theft in our country are public health issues and we think there are ways we can reduce the risk to people,” Pelosi stated. “People have different reasons for purchasing weapons, but fear of the unknown and fear of what’s happening right now is driving those sales.”
The increase in firearms in the face of the virus have raised concerns over whether gun stores should be considered “essential” in society. The Trump administration included gun shops to the federal list of critical infrastructure and most states have followed along with this position. With at least 30 states across the nation, including the neighboring states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, allowing gun retailers to be open, New York is in the minority in terms of deeming gun shops as non-essential. According to Pelosi, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stated that dealers can provide drive-up or walk-up services to help reduce health risks when buying guns. “There are more places where you can purchase a weapon through a drive-up or walk-up service than there are COVID-19 testing locations in the United States,” Pelosi exclaimed.
There have also been multiple gun-related incidents involving the public’s apprehension regarding the pandemic. Pelosi illustrated that “In Florida, there was a disabled man in Gainesville who was arrested for pulling a gun out. He got into an argument with a visitor in his apartment complex. He didn’t want him [visitor] there because he didn’t know if he had COVID-19. There was another incident in Wisconsin where a doctor and a husband were killed execution-style by the daughter’s boyfriend over stresses related to COVID-19 and social distancing. This is very concerning.”
In seeking to mitigate the increase in gun purchases in response to the pandemic situation, Pelosi advocated his support of more stringent safe storage laws. According to a study published on May 10, 2018 in the Journal of Urban Health, “Approximately 7% of US children (4.6 million) live in homes in which at least one firearm is stored loaded and unlocked, an estimate that is more than twice as high as reported in 2002, the last time a nationally representative survey assessed this outcome.” Pelosi states that 75% of those kids know where the guns are located in the house. Although Westchester county has stricter safe storage laws than other towns and cities, Assemblyman Buchwald says that “there is more work to be done… I would like to see the national government step up in a way that it clearly has not in recent years.”
Amidst the worries of gun violence in relation to the coronavirus pandemic are the concerns of domestic abuse and violence. Pelosi cites that “every month in the United States, 53 women lose their lives, which comes to around 600 women a year who are shot by their partners. With the COVID-19 there is an elevated risk for domestic abuse survivors; there is isolation from friends, family and support services.” As a result, at-risk individuals are not able to retain the same access to in-person support services and call hotlines. “We have to establish a lifeline for these folks – it is an extremely dangerous time for many people, aside from what is happening with the pandemic.”
Another consequence of the virus outbreak and resulting quarantine is the impact on the murder/suicide rates in the country both before and during the pandemic. Pelosi states that there are generally 11 murder/suicides by guns every week. However, between the dates of March 22 and April 2, there were at least 19 murder/suicide deaths during the stay at home order. “This is something that doesn’t get a lot of attention and is being amplified by the fact that many people are being forced to stay in their homes and not have access to support services.”
The burden that the coronavirus has placed on people socially and economically is clearly evident. However, the exponential rise in gun sales in relation to COVID-19 is becoming more acute. Pelosi passionately explains, “People need to care about this issue and they need to own it and not just rely on elected officials to keep us safe. We have got to make a change in this country so we can reduce gun deaths and gun injuries.”