Lockdown anxiety leads to record highs in gun purchases — and public safety concerns

by Caroline Bottger

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of anxiety, resulting in a notable trend: in April 2020, almost 2 million guns were sold in the US, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation carried out 2.9 million background checks. That’s up 71 percent over last year, according to Fox News. This is a continuation of a trend that started the month before, when lockdown measures were announced around the country. But will more weapons keep us safe?

The uptick stems from a fear that as the lockdown goes on, civil disorder could break out or essential supplies could run low, thus forcing individuals to take proactive steps to protect themselves and their families. “They may have an anxiety about protecting themselves if the organs of state are starting to erode,” Georgia State law professor Timothy Lytton told the New York Times.

But law and order have largely held, despite COVID-19 infections thinning the ranks of some cities’ police departments. In fact, crime nationwide has fallen overall. Politico reports that major crimes in New York City have fallen by 28.5 percent, though there has been a surge in murders and commercial burglaries. Despite fears of society unraveling, statistics suggest that crime such as fraud, theft, blackmail and forgery is decreasing.

This is not to say that crime has stopped altogether: reports of domestic violence have not fallen with the same speed. Domestic violence is underreported to start with, and victims trapped at home with their abusers might have even fewer opportunities to report. Burglary of shuttered businesses has increased in some cities. As Weihua Liu and Beth Schwartzapfel note, it’s difficult to assess crime as it happens. Crime reports traditionally take months or years to compile.

America won’t be in lockdown forever. Today’s spike in gun buying means more guns in our homes tomorrow. The risk of self-injury or injury to others in a home with a gun has is established, and research is beginning to shine some light on the link between gun laws and mass shootings. Research from Columbia University published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) showed that there is a strong correlation between states with relaxed gun laws (such as the ability to buy a machine-style rifle) and states that experience a higher rate of mass shootings. The study awarded states points on a scale of one to 100 based on 13 factors, The research found that for every 10-point relaxation in a state’s gun laws, the rates of mass shootings in that state increased by 11.5 percent. More research is needed, and with more government funds for gun research available, perhaps new data will emerge.

Caroline Bottger is a freelance writer who writes on issues of technology, privacy, and security. 
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