The pandemic presents an unprecedented danger to human health – and not just because of covid-19. New research suggests the pandemic has stoked rising worries about violence and fueled gun ownership.
Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study relies on data from the 2020 California Safety and Well-Being Survey, which covers topics related to firearm ownership, practices and exposure to violence. The 2,870 California adults surveyed reported rising concern about violence during the pandemic. About 1 in 10 were concerned someone they know might harm themselves.
About 7% of respondents who reported they had experienced unfair treatment believe it occurred because of the pandemic.
A disproportionate number were Asian Americans, reflecting reports of widespread anti-Asian racism and xenophobia throughout the pandemic. The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate reports it received over 2,500 complaints of anti-Asian American discrimination between March and August, including verbal attacks and potential civil rights violations.
The study also showed new firearm and ammunition purchases during the pandemic in response to concerns about lawlessness, prisoner releases and even government collapse. The researchers estimate that about 110,000 Californians bought firearms directly in response to the pandemic, 47,000 for the first time.
Although more than half of owners said they store their firearms securely, 1.2% – about 55,000 California firearm owners – keep a loaded firearm unlocked in their home, and half of those live with children or adolescents.
Why does this matter to public health? The researchers point out firearm ownership’s links to harm, from homicide to suicide to accidental shootings. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and firearm deaths accounted for about half of those deaths. Another 39,740 people died of firearm violence that year.
The researchers say their findings could drive short-term solutions such as community-based violence interventions and temporary, out-of-home firearm storage. And, they say, those solutions could help address “other societal shocks that exacerbate persistent structural, economic, and social inequities” that drive violence.