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About 110,000 Californians have bought a gun since the coronavirus arrived, study says

RIVERSIDE, CA - MARCH 31, 2020: Freddy Torres of Buena Park shoots his gun at Riverside Indoor Shooting Range during the coronavirus pandemic on March 31, 2020 in Riverside, California. (Gina Ferazzi/Los AngelesTimes)
Freddy Torres of Buena Park shoots his gun at the Riverside Indoor Shooting Range in March, after the start of COVID-19 pandemic. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

In the first five months of the COVID-19, thousands of Californians bought new guns and changed the way they stored their firearms in a bid to counter the unrest, government crackdowns and societal disintegration they feared would be unleashed by the public health emergency, a new survey has found.

The UC Davis researchers who conducted the survey detected shifts in gun ownerships trends that they said are likely to drive an uptick in firearm-related injuries and deaths, including suicides and the consequences of accidental discharges.

By mid-July, the pandemic was cited as a factor in the purchase of an estimated 110,000 new firearms in the state, they reported.

The majority of those sales — 57% — were to people who already owned at least one gun. But the remaining 43% went to people who did not previously own a firearm.

That figure suggests the pandemic has helped spur the creation of as many as 47,300 new gun-owning households in the state, the UC Davis team reported this month to MedRxiv, a website where researchers share their preliminary work. Many of those are homes that include children, teens and others at risk of self-injury, they added.

The California Safety and Wellbeing Survey was given to 2,870 Californians selected to serve as a representative sample of the state’s adult population. Its questions were designed to capture what they were thinking and doing in response to the pandemic and a political climate roiled by a string of police killings of Black men and women.

Their responses mirror a nationwide spike in gun sales. An earlier study by some of the same researchers found that firearm sales in the U.S. surged by 64% between March and May. The result: an additional 2.1 million firearms entered the homes of private citizens in the United States.

Those estimates are backed up by figures from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Based on the FBI background checks required for the sale of most firearms, the trade association for the firearm industry said that nearly 5 million Americans purchased a firearm for the first time in the first seven months of 2020, accounting for 40% of all firearms sales in that period.

The UC Davis researchers, from the school’s Violence Prevention Project, found that the fears driving the surge in gun sales bespeak a nation suffering a potentially serious crisis of confidence.

When asked what concerns had factored into their purchases, 76% of recent gun buyers who cited the pandemic said they worried about lawlessness. More than half — 56% — said they were concerned about the release of prisoners as a result of coronavirus outbreaks behind bars. In addition, 49% said they were worried about the government “going too far” and 38% feared a “government collapse.”

Customers line up outside a Culver City gun store in March
Customers line up outside a gun store in Culver City in March
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