COVID-19 has forced federal and state governments to consider what is an essential business allowed to remain open during the pandemic. Grocery stores, gas stations and auto-repair shops are a few of the businesses listed as essential. Perhaps less obvious is that numerous states and the Trump administration have deemed gun shops essential.
And people are giving them lots of business. According to The Trace, a news source dedicated to reporting on gun violence in the U.S., the FBI conducted 3.7 million background checks for gun sales in March, a single-month record. It is estimated that 1.5 million handguns and 836,000 long guns were sold in March, a year-to-year increase of 85 percent, according to the research firm Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting. The coronavirus has exacerbated people’s fears, prompting a surge of gun sales.
Of course, guns can’t prevent a virus from spreading. But more fundamentally, owning more guns makes us less safe. Research by Everytown for Gun Safety shows there were more than 1,600 unintentional shootings by children under the age of 18 from 2015 to 2019. The Center for American Progress notes that the presence of guns increases the death rate among people who attempt suicide and that women are five times more likely to be killed if a gun is present in domestic violence situations. A Harvard School of Public Health study shows the homicide rate is higher when more guns are available.
Policies and practices such as background checks, safe gun storage, Extreme Risk Protection Orders and an assault-weapons ban can lead to a decrease in gun violence. Extreme Risk Protection Orders in Connecticut and Indiana have decreased the suicide rate by 14 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, according to the journal Psychiatric Services.
Safe storage of firearms reduces the number of guns that can be stolen and used in violent crime. It can also prevent some unintentional injuries and suicides. A modest increase in the number of homes that safely store firearms could prevent a third of youth gun deaths due to suicide and unintentional gunshot injuries, reports a 2019 article in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The National Rifle Association promotes safe gun storage practices on its website. Practicing safe gun usage, such as making sure guns are not loaded while at home, and storing guns safely are simple solutions with long-lasting effects.
We live in unsettling times, and it is natural to be fearful. Panic-buying guns feeds off our fears rather than eases them. 1 John 4:17-19 encourages us to respond to fear with love for God and each other.
Rather than trying to calm our fears by purchasing guns, let us choose love as our guide. This includes speaking out against hateful actions and words directed toward our Asian-American neighbors, who have reported an increase in hateful rhetoric and attacks on their communities.
Our acts of love can also include continuing social distancing as long as necessary and demonstrating our love for one another by checking in on people who are lonely and isolated.
God assures the Israelites in Isaiah 43:2 that God is always near, despite the waters rising and fires raging. God is with us in our own troubled times, calling us to the way of love in a time of fear.
John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens is criminal justice education and advocacy coordinator in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.