Guns in the coronavirus age

Guns in the coronavirus age
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First, they came for the hand sanitizer. Then they came for the toilet paper. Then they came for the guns. The coronavirus is spreading fast, but fear-driven buying may be spreading even faster.

The fear of this virus, of course, is all-too-real, and no laughing matter. And the impulse to stock up on essentials is irresistible and probably prudent. But stocking up on firearms for your home isn’t, for a number of reasons.

For one, putting aside the risks of spreading or being infected by the virus from standing in a crowded line and buying guns, study after study has found that bringing a gun into your home is far more likely to endanger you and your family than protect it. 

One study, from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, found that "for each 10 percent increase in household gun ownership rates, the findings show a significant 13 percent increased incidence of domestic firearm homicide.”

The risks are great that guns will be stored unsafely and accessible to children and others who should not have access to them. And your semiautomatic can’t fend off the coronavirus, no matter how large your ammunition magazine is.

But there is an even more fundamental problem that may be at play with at least some of the binge-buying of guns. Some have a sense, it appears, that society may break down under the weight of this pandemic, and Americans will end up fighting each other for supplies, or food, or to maintain safety.  

In this post-apocalyptic Hobbesian state, guns will be needed. This is the same worldview that the National Rifle Association has been stoking for decades to fuel the notion that a gun is necessary for self-protection, evidenced by an inflammatory tweet last week. Some will even add, that is what the Framers intended when they wrote the Second Amendment into our Constitution.

That’s a dangerous notion — and it’s wholly contrary to what the Founders of our nation intended. The Second Amendment, in fact, was intended to protect “well-regulated militia” — state armies that maintained order and suppressed the sort of anarchic uprisings some gun buyers envision.  

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As one court put it in 1874 — near the Constitutionally-relevant time of the 14th Amendment — it would be “absurd” to suppose that the framers “took it for granted that their whole scheme of law and order, and government and protection, would be a failure and that the people, instead [of] depending upon the laws and the public authorities for protection, were each man to take care of himself, and to be always ready to resist to the death, then and there, all opposers.” On the contrary, the Court went on, the Framers envisioned “a well ordered and civilized community.”

That should be our vision still, perhaps now more than ever.

We don’t know when, but we will come out of these strange, unsettling days. Coronavirus will go away. There will be a vaccine. But there is no vaccine to eliminate the very real dangers of bringing an unsecured gun in your home, and the impact on every member of that household, from unintentional injuries to domestic violence to suicide.

The heightened risk of all of those injuries that claim lives every day will be permanently increased by the actions people take today.

And when we come out of this coronavirus, we must recommit to repairing the breaches of our society and establishing a caring community in which Americans recognize we are in this together, as a nation and, indeed, a world. Stockpiling firearms is not the answer and is contradictory to the very notions of government and society upon which our nation was founded.

Jonathan Lowy is the chief counsel and vice president, Legal Action Project, at Brady. Lowy has been named one of the 500 Leading Lawyers in America by Law magazine and has published numerous articles on gun litigation and policy.