Editor’s Note: Igor Volsky is the executive director of Guns Down America and the author of “Guns Down: How To Defeat The NRA And Build A Safer Future With Fewer Guns.” Joseph V. Sakran is director of emergency general surgery and trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is also the founder of @ThisIsOurLane, an organization of medical professionals who care for gun violence victims. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.
Americans are responding to the growing coronavirus pandemic by stocking up on essentials like toilet paper, eggs, milk – and deadly guns and ammunition. But all of that firepower is likely to do more harm than good, as Americans continue to grapple with the anxiety and uncertainty ahead.
Across the country, firearm shops are reporting a boom in sales, as customers line up to buy ammunition, handguns, shotguns, rifles – and even the deadliest of assault weapons.
“When I say sales have been booming, it’s an understatement,” David Stone, who works at Dong’s Guns, Ammo and Reloading in Tulsa, Oklahoma, told the Los Angeles Times.
Indeed, as one New York Times story phrased it, the FBI has processed “more background checks in February than it had done in all but two other months.” Online websites like Ammo.com are also reporting a 68% increase in sales over the last month.
But doomsday preppers and gun enthusiasts aren’t the only ones buying the nation’s gun and ammo inventory. Anecdotal reports from gun shop owners suggest that first-time purchasers are also getting in on the action.
For example, Gabriel Vaughn, the owner of Sportsman’s Arms in Petaluma, California, posted a video on Instagram, on March 14, noting a “huge influx in new, first-time buyers” and pleading with his regular clientele to be mindful of busy store staff during this period.
“I can barely lift my head up to say hello to people,” Vaughn said.
Similarly, Cole Gaughran of Wade’s Eastside Guns in Bellevue, Washington, reported an increase in first-time gun owners – particularly among the Asian-American community.
“The main thing I’m hearing is that they don’t want to get jumped because of their race,” he told The Trace.
The reported influx of new customers and uptick in background checks must be a welcome turnaround for an industry that has experienced sluggish sales over the last several years – and its boosters are actively exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to help grow profits further.
Last Friday, the National Rifle Association sent out an inflammatory “national alert” to its millions of members warning that “anti-gun extremists” in Champaign, Illinois, are using the emergency “to quietly pass and implement gun control schemes.”
Later that day, the city, which had issued an emergency declaration related to the coronavirus, issued a statement to respond to “false claims” about its order, pointing out that “there is currently no firearm ban and no intent to seize property or close businesses.” A lawyer for the city said that using these powers would require city council approval.
The gun and ammunition rush could lead to a spike in firearm suicides and domestic violence incidents, however.
As Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva explained during a press conference on Monday, “buying guns is a bad idea.”
“You have a lot of people now who are at home, normally they’re not, cabin fever sets in and you have a crowded environment,” he said. “Weapons are not a good mix.”
Indeed, research has consistently found that firearms in the home significantly increase instances of suicide homicide – and unintentional shootings.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has concluded that “every study that has examined the issue to date has found that within the U.S., access to firearms is associated with increased suicide risk,” with one analysis showing that “suicides were almost twice as high in the high-gun states, even though non-firearm suicides were about equal.”
Other researchers found that residents in states with higher rates of gun ownership are more likely to be shot and killed by a family member or an intimate partner, with women facing the greatest risk. Each 10% increase in household gun ownership rates corresponded with a 13% increase in domestic firearm homicides, researchers at the University of Indianapolis reported in 2017.
States with more guns also see more unintentional deaths. The mortality rate is seven times higher “in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns,” the Harvard researchers tell us.
And, so, if the best way to stop the coronavirus pandemic is to listen to the guidance of health professionals and scientists, then Americans must also tune out the grifters who are using this crisis to sell more firearms and embrace the overwhelming and conclusive science around the dangers of gun ownership.
If you’re looking to protect your family, continue to buy food and basic essentials as needed, not guns and ammunition – and then stay home.