The widespread fear and uncertainty created in 2020 has been reflected by skyrocketing gun sales in Florida and nationwide.
While the government cannot track gun sales, it can track background checks, which are required to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer. In March 2020, the number of background checks conducted in Florida alone was 169,715, nearly double the amount from March 2019.
Similarly, June 2020 saw background checks nearly triple from what they were in 2019, with 183,791 background checks conducted.
Surveys reveal that about 40% of customers in some gun stores are new owners. These new owners represent many different backgrounds, age groups, races and careers, yet they share a common fear of the future.
Though Florida gun sales have increased over the last nine months, the months of March and June are particularly important because they brought the largest spikes in sales.
These spikes were a response to the initial confusion and hysteria surrounding COVID-19 in March and the worries about racial injustice protests turning violent in June.
In March, no one knew what was going to happen in the proceeding weeks. The news felt apocalyptic; people panicked that life as they knew it was endangered. As grocery store shelves emptied, so were shelves of gun stores. There was a widespread attitude of “every man for himself,” which encouraged increased attention to self-defense.
Then June came around, and gun sales once again saw an increase following the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed.
Among Black Americans, gun sales were up 58% nationwide as of September. Many new Black gun owners express a sentiment that if society and law enforcement continuously fail to protect them, if they are not safe in their own homes, then they must protect themselves.
Among women, gun sales were up 40% nationwide as of September. They too feel a need to protect themselves against some fears that are rational but perhaps a bit ill-informed.
It is not the fault of any individual who thought that racial injustice protests are much more violent and threatening than what they are. This misinformation can largely be attributed to the media’s tendency to gravitate toward shocking, electrifying stories. Hence, they show mainly the protests that turn violent, not the hundreds of peaceful protests that happen nationwide.
There is also the misconception regarding the idea to “defund the police.” Some people think this equates to a society with no police force, in which case self-defense would be necessary. In reality, many who are advocating to defund the police mainly suggest funding more community-oriented programs and shrinking or reforming local police forces.
Nevertheless, this whirlwind of both information and misinformation has created the perfect storm for gun sales to rise.
Even though it is frightening to think there are one million Floridians who requested background checks in the first nine months of 2020, and one million more guns in the hands of one million people, their motivation is mostly justified.
My personal beliefs do not detract from the very real fear people feel toward the future of this country, a fear that is only growing in part due to the presidential election. To many, it seemed like there was no way to avoid violence regardless of which candidate won.
As gun sales continue at alarming rates, Florida should consider adding a requirement for mandatory firearm training for new gun owners as well as annual renewals of such training.
Most new gun owners seek training themselves as they do not know how to use their firearms. However, it would be more comforting to know that every last one of these one million gun owners are well-versed in firearm use and safety.
Ideally, the next few months will bring political and societal changes that calm the concerns of anxious Floridians who fear for their safety and their future, therefore lessening the urge to rely on firearms and this “every man for himself mentality.”
Featured image: Gun Shop in Lake Placid, Florida. Unmodified photo by Beyond My Ken used under a creative commons license. (https://bit.ly/2HTXWtq)
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