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Rutgers professor discusses recent report on increased gun purchases in 2020

A report from The COVID States Project linked increased firearm purchases back to March and June 2020, during the beginning of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and amid many national protests. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

There has been a large increase in the purchase of firearms in the U.S. during 2020 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the widespread occurrence of protests, according to a recent report from The COVID States Project

The main factors that contributed to this increase were high levels of uncertainty in the political, economical and social climates, said Katherine Ognyanova, an assistant professor at the School of Communication and Information and co-author of the report.

She said a key indicator of the rise in gun purchases was the significantly higher number of background checks performed throughout 2020, totaling approximately 21 million, compared to the previous year’s total of approximately 13.2 million checks, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation website.

Additionally, gun sales experienced a 91 percent increase between March and September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, according to The New York Times.

The sizable increase in firearm purchases coincides with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. in March, Ognyanova said. Another spike in gun purchases occurred in June, possibly due to widespread protests for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Those are events that increase concerns and uncertainty among various social groups, perhaps leading to more gun purchases,” she said. “Gun purchases coincide with very high levels of stress, uncertainty, economic and social challenges that many people are experiencing.”

More than 25,000 Americans across all 50 states were surveyed for the report. It found that the most common reasons for gun purchases were increased concerns about crime due to COVID-19 lockdowns, target shootings, hunting, protection against the government and worries surrounding the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath.

The report also found that increased gun purchases were more prevalent in certain protest attendees. Approximately 13 percent of the gun purchasing population in 2020 attended protests in relation to racism and police brutality, while 23 percent of gun purchases were made by attendees of rallies for former President Donald J. Trump or due to protests about election fairness or COVID-19 restrictions.

In addition, certain age groups and political affiliations made more gun purchases, according to the report. Approximately 14 percent of Republicans purchased a gun or had one in their household, compared to 6 percent of Democrats. Americans ages 18-24 accounted for 11 percent of gun purchases in 2020, while citizens ages 65 and up accounted for approximately 5 percent.

“It is simply the case that certain groups — people who are more conservative, people who live in certain parts of the country, etc. — are more likely to both purchase guns and also to not follow social distancing/mask guidelines,” Ognyanova said.

Other areas of correlation that the report observed were the vast majority of gun buyers in 2020 not being first-time buyers and those who had COVID-19 at some point in the year being more likely to purchase or own a gun.

Overall, Ognyanova said the increase in firearm sales seen in 2020 demonstrates the culmination of many citizens’ feelings of insecurity and fear over various issues presented throughout the year.

“I tend to see gun purchases as part of this overall pattern of people's response to uncertainty — seeking ways to deal with what seems like a scary environment to many people right now,” she said.


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