COVID-19, gun sales and guns in homes
In March an astounding 3,740,688 background checks took place, according to the FBI.
While this does not correlate exactly with gun sales, it is close and tells us that more guns were sold than any time since the background check system began in 1998.
This purchasing of firearms is not surprising now that the COVID-19 virus is causing unpredictable health and financial disruption. People are afraid a desperate person will break into their home. President Trump has called COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” as if we were being attacked by foreigners.
Even before this, for decades, the gun industry marketed guns as the best defense against home invasions. But there is scientific research on the use of guns for self-defense and on the risks of having guns in homes.
Dr. David Hemenway, a professor at Harvard’s school of Public Health, summarized the research studies on the risks vs. the benefits of owning firearms and found, “there is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms.” Defensive gun use is rare, and “it does not appear that self-defense gun use is more effective at preventing injury than many other methods of resistance,” Hemenway found. (On the myth of guns for defense see this summary.)
But here’s the big problem. According to Hemenway’s work, “[T]he evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home increases the likelihood not only that a household member will be shot accidentally, but also that someone in the home will die in a suicide or homicide.”
When couples are sheltering at home together in anxious and financially difficult times, tempers can flare and — if a gun is present — disputes can become lethal. “When there is a gun in a home with a history of domestic violence, there is a 500 percent higher chance that a woman will be murdered,” according to a Brady summary of research.
More than a dozen studies examined the link between guns in the home and suicides. All of them found that “firearms in the home are associated with substantially and significantly higher rates of suicide,” said Hemenway in his summary. A meta-analysis of studies found that access to guns in homes increases the risk of suicide by more than three times.
Another risk is unintentional shootings. During this pandemic many families will have children at home all day. Those bored, antsy children are likely to get into everything. If a gun is in the home and not stored locked and unloaded, the likelihood of an unintentional gun death or serious injury will increase. Already, every year there are 450 to 500 unintentional gun deaths and over 20,000 unintentional gun injuries. With more homes with guns and more people staying at home with kids for long periods of time, these numbers could rise.
People who choose to have firearms in their home now more than ever should keep them locked up, with the ammunition locked separately. Before this pandemic came along, eight children or teens were being killed or injured every day due to unlocked or unsupervised guns in the home. Safe gun storage will now be especially important. Storing firearms locked and unloaded is associated with a 73 percent lower risk of youth “family fire” suicide and unintentional gun death or injury in the home, according to a study led by Dr. David Grossman.
In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, 42 states have required nonessential businesses to close, but at least 30 of those states have designated gun shops as essential businesses and allowed them to stay open. A recent Department of Homeland Security advisory named gun shops as “essential” to suggest they can stay open. All of the above considerations strongly argue that the Department of Homeland Security’s advisory is fatally misguided. Fortunately, it is only an advisory.
Keeping gun shops open during the pandemic will not only contribute to the spread of the virus, it will increase its deadly toll. Now is the worst time to be buying a gun and bringing it into the home.
I strongly urge state and local officials to require gun shops to remain closed temporarily during this pandemic, like other nonessential businesses. Local and state authorities can still enforce their regulations. We should not let gun shops (or other nonessential businesses) re-open until the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
Griffin Dix, Ph.D., is president of the Oakland/Alameda County (Calif.) Brady chapter and served on the Brady Board of Trustees from 2006 through 2008. He was research director at MacWEEK. His 15-year-old son was shot and killed in 1994 in an unintentional shooting with a gun that was stored unlocked and loaded. Since his son was killed, Dix has worked with a coalition that has helped to pass many state laws to prevent gun violence, including laws establishing semiautomatic handgun product safety standards. He is writing a memoir about the loss of his son, his lawsuit against Beretta USA and his work on gun violence prevention. Follow him on Twitter @griffindix.
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