On top of the paper I wrote about last week, I have found a second scholarly publication on firearm purchasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This one is by a group of public health scholars associated with the Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program at the University of Washington and published in the journal Injury Prevention.
As usual, I skip the parts of these papers that speculate on negative outcomes that could occur and get straight to the data.
Here the data comes from an Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) survey of people from May 1-5, 2020 about whether they had purchased a firearm in response to COVID-19 since January 1, 2020.
As MTurk data are non-representative (note that 56.5% of the respondents are female), it is best to examine differences that exist between categories of individuals within the sample rather than seeking to generalize from the sample to the broader population.
The authors assist in these comparisons by breaking their respondents down into six groups: (1a) COVID-19 gun buyers who already owned guns, (1b) new COVID-19 gun owners who already had a gun in their household, (1c) new COVID-19 gun owners who did not currently have a gun in their household, (2a) non-buyers who already owned guns, (2b) non-buyers who have a gun in their household, and (2c) non-buyers who do not have a gun in their household.
I am very interested in the comparison between 1c (the really, really new gun owners– column 3 in the tables below) and 2c (the non-gun owning, non-purchasers – column 6 in the tables below).
A few things stand out in Table 1 (above). As I highlighted in my National Firearms Law Seminar talk on Gun Culture 2.0, new gun owners are more diverse than existing gun owners. They also appear to be more diverse than non-gun owners.
For example, 64.8% of really-really new gun owners in this sample are female, compared to 56.3% of non-gun owners (and 56.5% of the entire sample). 12.8% of really-really new guns owners here are non-Hispanic Blacks, compared to 4.1% of non-gun owners (and 9.2% of the entire sample).
Really-really new gun owners are also more likely to live in a household with children under the age of 18 (48.0%) than are non-gun owners (36.0%).
Many of the people who bought guns during the COVID-19 pandemic were existing gun owners. In Table 2 above they appear in column 1. Really-really new gun owners differ from existing gun owners in many ways, including in their motivation for purchasing a gun during the pandemic. For example, protection against people: 78.5% really-really new owners vs. 52.9% existing owners. Concern about the economy: 48.6% really-really new owners vs. 34.8% existing owners. And concern about crime: 47.5% really-really new owners vs. 24.1% existing owners.
Last, these data lead me to reflect a bit more on something I observed as early as 2013 on my other blog: there is some connection between owning firearms for self-defense and the “prepper” movement. Obviously, some gun owners are seriously into prepping — see, e.g., Michael Bane’s “The Best Defense: Survival” show on Outdoor Channel — but others are simply practicing a low level of prepping, i.e., preparedness for unknown problems that a firearm may help them address.
As Table 2 highlights, compared to non-gun owners, during the COVID-19 pandemic really-really new gun owners are more likely to have stocked up on hand sanitizer (63.1% vs. 32.9%), first aid supplies (40.2% vs. 14.0%), home security products other than guns (24.6% vs. 1.8%), and pepper spray (13.4% vs. 1.8%).
In a May 2020 news story on the increase in gun sales in Appalachia, I said first-time buyers are often purchasing some peace of mind:
“I think the intended purpose of the purchase is physical security, and they are also attempting to buy some psychological security. . . . It’s like the toilet paper. If they can’t have anything else under control, they know they have that one thing under control.”
Not surprisingly, really-really new gun owners were more likely to stock up on toilet paper (74.3%) than non-gun owners (46.8%) during the early months of the pandemic.