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Pandemic, Political Tensions Prompt A Run On Guns, Survey Shows

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Gun sales have spiked during the pandemic, and retailers are running low on ammunition all around the country.

The COVID States Project has been working with researchers at top colleges to conduct national surveys throughout the pandemic. That includes those at Northwestern, Northeastern, Harvard and Rutgers universities.

One of its latest asked people about gun purchases. The survey found that those who went to anti-racism or police-violence protests were 1.6 times more likely to buy firearms than those who didn’t, and those who went to Trump rallies and lockdown protests were 3.9 times more likely.

And that tracks with some of the federal gun sale data, according to Matthew Simonson of Northeastern University, who led the research.

“We actually saw gun sales spike at the start of the pandemic in March, and again even higher in June when the Black Lives Matter protests reached their peak across the country,” he said.

The survey found that the vast majority of gun buyers over the past 10 months already owned firearms, and most bought them because they feared crime. Only 3% of survey participants were first-time gun owners. That largely tracks with trends from prior years.

However, this year saw a larger number of purchases overall, and nearly a third of survey participants said they bought firearms because of COVID-19, lockdowns, the election, or for protection against the government.

One trend that was especially interesting for Simonson was that gun owners who caught COVID-19 were more likely to buy more guns than those who hadn’t.

“One possible reason would be that people who are used to feeling safe when they buy guns,” he said, adding they “might have bought guns in response to the insecurity created by themselves or someone in their household getting sick with the pandemic.”

For more information on the political and racial breakdown of gun purchasers, you can find that research here.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.