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How to Talk About Gun Violence During the Pandemic


Key Points

  1. 3.7 million background checks were run in March 2020—that’s an all-time record for background checks in a single month. Despite what the gun lobby says, this spike in gun sales makes us less safe, not more.

  2. With so many people self-quarantining, there are increased risks of domestic violence, gun suicide, community violence, and unintentional gun violence right now.

  3. This puts lives at risk and threatens to flood our already-overwhelmed hospital system with victims of gun violence at a time when we need medical professionals focused on the pandemic.

Domestic violence during the pandemic

Right now, the risks of domestic violence are higher than ever:
  • Domestic violence always spikes during times of prolonged financial stress.
  • There’s been a historic surge in gun sales, and access to guns makes it five times more likely an abuser will kill his female victim.
  • And our background check system is under unprecedented strain, which increases the likelihood that domestic abusers who should be denied a gun slip through the cracks when background checks take longer than three business days. Background checks on convicted domestic abusers often take the longest of any prohibiting category.

That’s a deadly combination—and it’s already translating to increased reports of domestic violence around the country.

So what can we do?
  1. First, we can and should close the Charleston loophole at the state and federal level, at least temporarily, to give law enforcement the time they need to complete background checks.
  2. Second, we can show victims that there is hope and help available. Shelters and hotlines need more support, but they are still up and running and dedicated to serving you. If you’re unable to speak safely via phone, you can log onto or text LOVEIS to 22522.

Suicide during the pandemic

Suicide is the cause of nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in America each year—and right now, the risk of suicide is higher than ever. Many Americans are stressed about the loss of jobs, devastated by the loss of loved ones, and lonely due to social distancing and mass isolation.

We’re already seeing hotline calls spike around the country. At one mental health services organization, for example, crisis counselors fielded more than 1,800 calls related to COVID-19 in March, versus just 20 in February.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to mitigate these risks. Most people who attempt suicide do not die—unless they use a gun. Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, 4 percent will result in death. But for gun suicides, those statistics are flipped: Approximately 90 percent of gun suicide attempts end in death.

To address this problem, we need to:
  1. Encourage secure storage, which is associated with a 78 percent lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries among children.
  2. Most of all, help people see that they aren’t alone. Shelters and hotlines need more support, but they are still up and running and dedicated to serving you. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities

Early data shows that COVID-19 is taking a disproportionate toll in the same Black and brown communities that experience concentrated gun violence.

The underlying reason is clear: Decades of underinvestment in these neighborhoods have created the environments in which public health epidemics, like COVID-19 and gun violence, thrive. Years of deliberate policy decisions, particularly a history of housing discrimination, have resulted in segregated neighborhoods and underinvestment in Black and brown communities. We must address the inequitable policies that caused these deadly disparities in the first place.

Gun violence in many American cities continues even during the pandemic, and community-based violence intervention organizations continue their life-saving work. The mission of many of these organizations has expanded to address the drivers of gun violence exacerbated by COVID-19 and to increase awareness of COVID-19 safety measures.

We must make emergency funds available to these community-based violence intervention programs who work on the frontlines to protect communities.

Secure storage

With schools closed due to COVID-19, millions of children and teens are spending a lot of time isolated at home. That means a higher risk than ever of unintentional shootings.

Approximately 4.6 million children live in a household with at least one gun that is stored loaded and unlocked, and that can have devastating consequences.

Fortunately, an overwhelming majority of unintentional shootings by children can be prevented with secure storage:

  • Unloaded firearms should be secured with a firearm locking device, such as a jacket or cable lock, or in a locked location, like a safe or lock box.
  • Ammunition should be stored separately from the firearm in a secure location.
  • Research indicates that these practices are associated with reduced rates of child firearm suicide. One study even showed that households that locked both firearms and ammunition had a 78 percent lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries among children and teenagers.

As adults, it’s our responsibility to keep children safe. Gun owners should always assume children and teens know where guns are stored, and make sure to keep them locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition. Learn more about secure storage.

President Trump declaring gun stores ‘essential’

It’s shameful and nonsensical that the administration has decided to deem gun dealers as essential as police, first responders, hospital workers, and other workers who are risking everything to save lives during this pandemic.

Governors and mayors should ignore this non-binding guidance from the Trump administration and make the best decisions to keep their people safe during this emergency. Because in the midst of a pandemic, everyone should be worried about reducing the spread of the disease and no one should be worrying about pleasing the gun lobby.

The gun lobby during COVID-19

The NRA is mired in crisis and strapped for cash, so they’ve turned to their old playbook to bail them out: fear-mongering about the collapse of society to raise money.

They’re selling two lies right now:

  1. First, that the only way to stay safe during this pandemic is to buy a gun.
  2. Second, that the sky is falling—military rule is coming, food shortages will lead to looting, and COVID-19 responses are “a sign of the apocalypse.” They’ve also spread racist narratives about the virus. And in one video, an NRA spokesperson even said, “You might be stockpiling up on food right now to get through this current crisis. But if you aren’t preparing to defend your property when everything goes wrong, you’re really just stockpiling for somebody else.”

The NRA never misses an opportunity to say that the sky is falling and the only way to stay safe is to shoot it.

But the truth is this: the apocalypse isn’t coming; stay-at-home orders are life-saving measures, not tyranny; and despite what the NRA would like people to believe, you can’t shoot a virus.

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