IN THE NAME OF FEAR by Toni Wellen, CAGV Chair Emeritus

We are living in the time of COVID. Should I wear a mask and social distance, or should I buy a gun? Am I safer with a gun? Perhaps getting vaccinated might be more logical, however I need to wait my turn…. what are others doing?

Gun sales surged in the Spring of 2020 amid coronavirus fears and have climbed higher during protests for racial justice.

As reported in this column last March, Americans have bought nearly 17 million guns so far in 2020, more than in any other single year, according to estimates.

By August of 2020, we had exceeded the total of gun sales in 2019. By September, we exceeded the highest total ever. The increase in gun sales appeared to be primarily driven by more purchases of handguns, though Americans were also buying more rifles and other long guns.

Gun sales across the United States first jumped in the spring of 2020, driven by fears about the coronavirus pandemic, and spiked even higher in the summer, during massive racial justice protests across the country, prompted initially by police killings of black Americans and currently by racial hatred of Asian-Americans. Although Donald Trump unfairly blames an entire ethnic group for the coronavirus pandemic crisis, it can embolden discrimination and violence. However, the treatment of Asian Americans goes way back, and is part of the systemic racism of America.

Gun violence prevention advocates said the sustained surge in gun sales was deeply troubling and could contribute to an increase in domestic violence, suicide and children accidentally shooting themselves or with adults’ guns.

An increase in gun purchases in just the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic was associated with an 8% increase in firearm violence.

The gun industry thrives in a culture of fear. What should we realistically fear?
Gun violence is already an urgent public health emergency in this country that takes the lives of nearly 40,000 people annually. Putting more guns in more hands is certain to exacerbate that problem.

When it comes to making the decision of whether to buy a gun—especially in a time of increased uncertainty and anxiety—individuals and families should ensure that this choice is guided by research.

Here are four informed reasons to think twice before buying a gun during the coronavirus crisis:

1. A gun is more likely to be stolen than used in self-defense.
Guns are infrequently used in self-defense, they are routinely stolen. Data shows that guns are therefore twice as likely to be stolen than they are to be used for self-defensive purposes.

2. Unsecured guns in the home create risks of unintentional shootings by children.
An estimated 4.6 million children in the United States live in homes where guns are unsecured—meaning they are not locked or in a gun safe. Many parents think their children do not know that there are guns in the home or where they are stored. Often children do know how to gain access to these guns. 73 percent of children under the age of 10 actually knew the storage location, contradicting their parents’ perceptions. FYI—California has a law, Child Access Prevention or CAPs. If there are minor children in the home, firearms must be stored, unloaded and locked separately from ammunition.

3. Guns are the most lethal means of suicide attempts.
Social isolation can increase feelings of anxiety, despair, and helplessness. Adding guns into that equation heightens the risk of fatal self-harm.
Gun suicides account for two-thirds of all gun deaths in the United States, and guns are the most lethal means by which suicide is attempted.

4. Guns in the home increase risks to victims of domestic and family violence.
For victims of domestic and family violence, the need to remain at home and practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 can heighten the risks of serious injury or death. An abusive partner may further isolate survivors from their support systems, or intensify their physical abuse and disrupt strategies that survivors have developed to keep themselves safe.

The question of whether bringing a gun into a home is a safe and appropriate choice for a household involves the awareness that a gun is dangerous in anyone’s hands. It is a weapon designed to kill. Should we fear the virus or a firearm we brought into our home?

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