A new report finds that more than 100,000 California residents have purchased a gun or firearm in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a response attributed to a jump in concern of violence during the global health crisis.
Conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis Firearm Violence Research Center and Violence Prevention Research Program, an online survey was administered to 2,870 adults across California from July 14 to 27 — a relatively short time span, but with a representative sample of Californian adults.
In response to questions about perceived increases in violence, 2.4 percent of respondents said that they purchased a firearm due to the pandemic. Within this group, 43 percent reported that they did not own a firearm prior to the onset of the coronavirus.
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When extrapolating this amount of people from the approximate 30.1 million residents in California, researchers estimate that roughly 110,000 Californians acquired firearms during the pandemic, amounting to 47,000 new gun owners.
The questions were aimed at gauging respondents’ feelings surrounding personal and general safety concerns regarding different incidences of violence before and during the pandemic, such as mass shootings, assault, robbery, homicide, violence and accidental shootings in response to a pandemic-related loss.
Questions were also asked about firearm acquisition practices during the pandemic.
Results found that the percentage of respondents who reported that they were either “somewhat” or “very worried” about instances of violence spiked sharply over the course of the pandemic, with most respondents reporting an increased fear of all types of violence, including robberies, police violence and unintentional shootings.
The only notable decrease were concerns over mass shootings, potentially due to restrictions on large gatherings to reduce virus transmission.
When asking respondents what their primary motivator was for purchasing firearms, 75.9 percent said it was due to a concern over lawlessness, followed by concerns about prisoner releases and governmental overreach.
“Violence is a significant public health problem which touches the lives of far more people than is typically recognized,” the report reads. “Our findings from this first-of-its-kind population-representative survey of California adults add support to a growing body of research suggesting that the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to lessen its spread have compounded the burden of violence-related harms.”
The authors conclude that the report’s respondents expressed increased levels of concern about violence during the pandemic when compared to pre-pandemic levels and that firearm acquisition during this period was mainly out of a concern for self-protection.
There is a larger concern over the longer term public health implications for the rise in gun acquisitions. Most frequently, women and children bear the brunt of the elevated risk that comes with a gun present in a household, but suicide is another danger that comes with firearm ownership.
By Amy Norton
TUESDAY, Oct. 20, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Citing fears over violence and chaos, more than 100,000 Californians have bought guns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study estimates.
Researchers said the findings add to evidence that the U.S. pandemic has sparked firearm “panic-buying.” Early on, federal figures showed a spike in background checks, while some online firearm retailers reported soaring sales, according to Giffords, a gun violence prevention group.
The new study went beyond numbers, asking gun buyers about their motivations, said lead researcher Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, an assistant professor with the University of California, Davis, Violence Prevention Research Program.
And it found that fear of violence and societal breakdown was the main driver.
The findings come from an ongoing California survey on firearm ownership and exposure to violence. Among 2,870 adults statewide, about 2.5% said they’d bought a firearm due to the pandemic.
That, according to Kravitz-Wirtz, translated to an estimated 110,000 gun purchases for the whole state. And it included 47,000 by first-time buyers.
Most buyers pointed to fears over “lawlessness” (76%), prison releases (56%), the government “going too far” (49%), or the government “collapsing” (38%).
The rise in firearm access is concerning, Kravitz-Wirtz said, because “extensive research” shows that having a gun in the home increases the risks of accidents, suicide and homicide — particularly where a woman is the victim.
Those risks could be further heightened now, at a time of widespread anxiety, unemployment and social isolation, according to Kravitz-Wirtz.
For mental health experts, the big concern is suicide, said Debbie Plotnick, vice president of state and federal advocacy for the nonprofit Mental Health America.
Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, she said. And access to a firearm greatly raises the odds that a suicide attempt will end in death.
With the pandemic taking a widespread mental health toll, experts fear it will all result in an increase in suicides, Plotnick said.
Since January, she noted, the Mental Health America website has seen a surge in traffic to its free screening tools for conditions like anxiety and depression. And many visitors are young people under age 24.
“We’re finding that young people are having a harder time than adults who’ve had the chance to live through trying times before,” Plotnick said.
So it’s particularly concerning, she noted, when guns are in the same home as teenagers and young adults — especially if the weapons are not stored properly.
And that may be a common scenario, the survey found. In response to pandemic fears, some gun owners had begun keeping firearms loaded and within easy reach.
An estimated 55,000 California gun owners had switched to that unsafe practice, according to Kravitz-Wirtz. About half of them lived with children or teenagers.
With many children home all day, that increases the chances of an accident, Kravitz-Wirtz noted.
Plotnick said, “If you bought a gun to make your family safer, the result may be the opposite.”
Both she and Kravitz-Wirtz stressed the importance
In the first five months of the COVID-19, thousands of Californians bought new guns and changed the way they stored their firearms in a bid to counter the unrest, government crackdowns and societal disintegration they feared would be unleashed by the public health emergency, a new survey has found.
The UC Davis researchers who conducted the survey detected shifts in gun ownerships trends that they said are likely to drive an uptick in firearm-related injuries and deaths, including suicides and the consequences of accidental discharges.
By mid-July, the pandemic was cited as a factor in the purchase of an estimated 110,000 new firearms in the state, they reported.
The majority of those sales — 57% — were to people who already owned at least one gun. But the remaining 43% went to people who did not previously own a firearm.
That figure suggests the pandemic has helped spur the creation of as many as 47,300 new gun-owning households in the state, the UC Davis team reported this month to MedRxiv, a website where researchers share their preliminary work. Many of those are homes that include children, teens and others at risk of self-injury, they added.
The California Safety and Wellbeing Survey was given to 2,870 Californians selected to serve as a representative sample of the state’s adult population. Its questions were designed to capture what they were thinking and doing in response to the pandemic and a political climate roiled by a string of police killings of Black men and women.
Their responses mirror a nationwide spike in gun sales. An earlier study by some of the same researchers found that firearm sales in the U.S. surged by 64% between March and May. The result: an additional 2.1 million firearms entered the homes of private citizens in the United States.
Those estimates are backed up by figures from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Based on the FBI background checks required for the sale of most firearms, the trade association for the firearm industry said that nearly 5 million Americans purchased a firearm for the first time in the first seven months of 2020, accounting for 40% of all firearms sales in that period.
The UC Davis researchers, from the school’s Violence Prevention Project, found that the fears driving the surge in gun sales bespeak a nation suffering a potentially serious crisis of confidence.
When asked what concerns had factored into their purchases, 76% of recent gun buyers who cited the pandemic said they worried about lawlessness. More than half — 56% — said they were concerned about the release of prisoners as a result of coronavirus outbreaks behind bars. In addition, 49% said they were worried about the government “going too far” and 38% feared a “government collapse.”