As the coronavirus spreads sickness and fear throughout the world, citizens are stocking up on staples like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. But in America, they’re also lining up to buy guns and ammunition — a reaction, in part, to the fear and misinformation spread by the gun lobby, which always fails to mention the risks that accompany gun ownership, including an increased likelihood of unintentional shootings, intimate partner violence, and gun suicide.
While the coronavirus upends the lives of millions of Americans, the National Rifle Association is doing what it does best: fearmongering to arm more Americans. Using the tired claim that “some anti-gun politicians are using the pandemic to try and strip Americans” of their guns, the NRA warned that “people are worried their government won't be able to protect them.”
This exploitation for profit is the last thing we need given the emergency confronting our nation. But the NRA has a long history of using fear during natural disasters to sell guns. During former President Barack Obama’s second term, the NRA's CEO, Wayne LaPierre, stoked fear about the need to be armed to ward off “hurricanes, tornadoes, riots, terrorists, gangs, and lone criminals.” In 2016, an NRA spokesperson painted a grim, fictitious picture of an “absolute breakdown in societal order” in which “roving hordes are free to loot, burn, and murder” in order to sell guns. And in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the gun lobby capitalized on the catastrophe to loosen gun laws in Texas.
Why is the NRA working so hard to sell guns during the coronavirus? Because gun manufacturers write checks to the NRA. Lagging gun industry’s profits since President Donald Trump took office mean manufacturers haven’t been able to bail the NRA out of three straight years of deficits, which is taking its toll on the organization — earlier this week, the NRA announced staff layoffs and salary cuts.
But the gun industry’s desperation could have tragic consequences for vulnerable Americans. Last week, 13-year-old Patricio Arroyo was killed after his cousin allegedly unintentionally shot him with a gun he had brought home to “protect” himself during the coronavirus pandemic. His cousin has been charged with murder, and their family is left to mourn a senseless, preventable tragedy.
It’s one of many unintended but logical outcomes as more people buy guns and keep them unsecured in houses where children are home from school. And given that at least 4.6 million children in America live in homes with unsecured guns — and kids in gun-owning homes often know where those guns are stored — there is a significant safety risk to the many students who are unexpectedly home from school with time on their hands.
Given that the coronavirus is confining Americans to their homes, we should also be concerned about families living with an abuser. Police are reporting a significant uptick in calls related to domestic violence since the coronavirus crisis began to spread, and we know that when a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, a woman is five times more likely to be shot and killed.
We also know there are people who will struggle economically and psychologically during this crisis, and easier access to guns for anyone who’s experiencing suicidal ideology could mean the difference between life and death. Research shows that having access to a firearm triples one’s risk of death by suicide. This elevated risk applies not only to the gun owner, but to everyone in the household.
The truth is that if more guns and fewer gun laws made us safer, we’d be the safest nation on Earth. Instead, we have a gun homicide rate 25 times higher than the average of other high-income countries. But the truth won’t pay the NRA’s bills. And, despite the NRA’s misinformation and rhetoric, panic-buying guns won’t protect Americans from the coronavirus. The most important things we can do right now to keep our families safe are to follow social distancing protocols, wash our hands, and continue to do everything in our power to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Because, sadly, we know that America’s gun violence crisis never stops — even during a pandemic.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the author of Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World. She is a mother of five. The opinions expressed here are her own.