People were waiting in a line to enter a gun store in Culver City, California (Photo by Ringo HW Chiu/AP)
People from different countries respond differently to coronavirus pandemic: some stockpile toilet paper while others grab as many masks as they can. But for Americans, the response is by setting a record-breaking number of gun and ammunition purchases, according to the latest government data.
In March, more than 3.7 million firearm background checks were conducted through the FBI’s background check system, making the highest number on record in more than 20 years. An estimated 2.5 million of those background checks were conducted for gun sales, which is an 80% increase compared with the same month last year.
The figures highlight how the pandemic has created a surge in demand for gun ownership, with some gun stores finding themselves inundated with panic-buyers and having difficulty maintaining inventory. Many Americans were reportedly purchasing a gun for the first time.
The record-breaking week is the week of 16 March when California residents were photographed lining up outside local gun stores, as the state announced the first emergency stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Concerns about the coronavirus that has resulted in the release of certain prisoners, reduced enforcement of certain laws, and reduced police force numbers all drove Americans to their local gun stores and online ammunition dealers at a pace unseen before in the industry. The rush has been exacerbated in some states by the closure of gun stores.
“People are nervous that there’s a certain amount of civil disorder that might come if huge numbers of people are sick and a huge number of institutions are not operating normally,” said Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University and an expert on the gun industry. “They may have an anxiety about protecting themselves if the organs of state are starting to erode.”
Several recent gun-related incidents have been linked to coronavirus fears. Police in Alpharetta, Ga., arrested a man they accused of pointing a gun at two women wearing medical masks and gloves because he feared he might contract the virus. Another man in New Mexico was charged with the accidental shooting death of his 13-year-old cousin with a gun he told police he was carrying “for protection” amid the outbreak.
The soaring firearms sales have raised public health concerns and prompted local officials to debate whether gun stores should be temporarily closed. Advocates for stricter safety measures argue that the surge could pose a safety threat if buyers aren’t trained properly, new guns aren’t stored safely and background checks aren’t completed.
The second-highest week of total firearms background checks on record was 17 December 2012, the week after a mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 20 children dead. This sparked fears that the US would pass sweeping national gun control measures.
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