US gun and ammunition sales have increased along with COVID-19 cases with reports of lines weaving around gun shops in California and elsewhere. The Trump administration early this week issued guidelines ruling that gun shops be considered essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies, and hospitals in stay-at-home areas.
Differing views on what’s “essential” have left some states and counties bouncing between closing and then allowing gun shops to stay open.
The FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) shows more than 2.8 million gun background checks in February 2020—up from just over 2 million in the same month in 2019. (That does not equate to firearms sold, since some of those numbers represent background re-checks for current gun permits.) And, one online ammunition retailer, ammo.com, reported a more than 500% increase in transactions from February 23 to March 26, compared to the previous 32-day period. The company's state-to-state map noted its ammo sales by late March jumping more than 1,000% in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Delaware, and Vermont.
A 2019 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that states with the highest “firearm ownership had a 64.6% higher incidence rate of domestic firearm homicide" than states with the lowest gun ownership numbers.
Though more studies are needed, the early numbers worry some health professionals.
“There's the big run on guns, and it's not just more guns being sold. Some people that are making these runs are not already gun owners. They don't have training or a safe storage system set up. They've lost jobs, and are isolated and possibly using more alcohol. It is a perfect storm,” said Paul Nestadt, MD, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Anxiety Disorders Clinic.
Nestadt cited research regarding access to guns and increases in suicides, especially with complicating factors such as substance use, depression, or anxiety.
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