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Gun Sales Soared During Pandemic Lockdowns

Experts worry the spike will lead to more gun violence
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted May 31, 2021 10:42 AM CDT
Gun Sales Soared During Pandemic Lockdowns
In this March 28, 2020, file photo, rifles are offered for sale at Center Target Sports in Post Falls, Idaho. After a year of pandemic lockdowns, mass shootings are back, but the guns never went away.   (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review via AP, File)

When the lockdowns started, gun sales boomed in the US. Lockdowns are now easing across the country as more get vaccinated for COVID-19, but gun sales are still booming, according to Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. Looking at federal background checks—which surpassed a million in one week for the first time last March—shows that firearm sales are up all over the country, the New York Times reports. A fifth of last year's buyers were first-time gun owners. And there weren't as many white men as there typically would be among them: Half were women, and two-fifths were Black or Hispanic. While it's not clear whether the increase in sales has or will correspond with an increase in gun violence, Wintemute says gun violence is surging in his home state of California, the Sacramento Bee reports.

The record for federal background checks was set this spring, with 1.2 million performed in one week. Since the government doesn’t track all gun sales, it’s unclear just how big the surge is; background check data might not catch the many private sales that take place. But as Wintemute says, "Usually it slows down. But this just kept going." And while research has shown that more guns generally means more gun deaths, there’s no exact data that predicts whether the recent spike in sales will lead to, or already has led to, a spike in shootings. Wintemute says his research shows more violence in states where gun sales surged the most, but other factors including the lockdowns and pandemic-related job loss were also at play, so it's not yet clear what role gun purchases played. Even so, he calls the data worrying, pointing to the fact that homicides were up a quarter last year, and are up about 18% in the first quarter of this year.
(More guns stories.)

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