Story at a glance

  • Research conducted by the University of California, Davis suggests that gun ownership increased during the pandemic due to an increasing perception of violence.
  • The study was limited to Californians and relies on self-report data.

A new report finds that more than 100,000 California residents have purchased a gun or firearm in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a response attributed to a jump in concern of violence during the global health crisis. 

Conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis Firearm Violence Research Center and Violence Prevention Research Program, an online survey was administered to 2,870 adults across California from July 14 to 27 — a relatively short time span, but with a representative sample of Californian adults. 

In response to questions about perceived increases in violence, 2.4 percent of respondents said that they purchased a firearm due to the pandemic. Within this group, 43 percent reported that they did not own a firearm prior to the onset of the coronavirus. 


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When extrapolating this amount of people from the approximate 30.1 million residents in California, researchers estimate that roughly 110,000 Californians acquired firearms during the pandemic, amounting to 47,000 new gun owners.

The questions were aimed at gauging respondents’ feelings surrounding personal and general safety concerns regarding different incidences of violence before and during the pandemic, such as mass shootings, assault, robbery, homicide, violence and accidental shootings in response to a pandemic-related loss. 

Questions were also asked about firearm acquisition practices during the pandemic. 

Results found that the percentage of respondents who reported that they were either “somewhat” or “very worried” about instances of violence spiked sharply over the course of the pandemic, with most respondents reporting an increased fear of all types of violence, including robberies, police violence and unintentional shootings.

The only notable decrease were concerns over mass shootings, potentially due to restrictions on large gatherings to reduce virus transmission. 

When asking respondents what their primary motivator was for purchasing firearms, 75.9 percent said it was due to a concern over lawlessness, followed by concerns about prisoner releases and governmental overreach. 

“Violence is a significant public health problem which touches the lives of far more people than is typically recognized,” the report reads. “Our findings from this first-of-its-kind population-representative survey of California adults add support to a growing body of research suggesting that the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to lessen its spread have compounded the burden of violence-related harms.”

The authors conclude that the report’s respondents expressed increased levels of concern about violence during the pandemic when compared to pre-pandemic levels and that firearm acquisition during this period was mainly out of a concern for self-protection. 

There is a larger concern over the longer term public health implications for the rise in gun acquisitions. Most frequently, women and children bear the brunt of the elevated risk that comes with a gun present in a household, but suicide is another danger that comes with firearm ownership. 

Ultimately, the results suggest that the pandemic has exacerbated existing fears of violence, although the report was limited to a sample of California residents during a select time during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


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Published on Oct 20, 2020