“When Americans are concerned about their personal security, they buy firearms,” says a recent report from the Brookings Institution, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. Since firearm sales for the first eight months of this year already exceed all of last year’s sales, Americans must be concerned indeed.
By the end of July, the FBI had performed background checks for the sale of 12.1 million guns, only about one million shy of the sales mark for all of 2019. August’s sales boosted the numbers to 15 million, shattering the 2019 total. Analysts at Brookings attribute the buying spree to the effects of coronavirus fears in March and the civil unrest and lawlessness following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
Previous spikes in sales of firearms can be traced to the public’s uncertainty over access to firearms due to potential increase in gun control laws, such as occurred after the Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and Lakeland Park, Florida mass shootings. However, the 2020 spike up to this point is not about uncertainty over access to firearms, according to Brookings, but over personal safety.
“In March, concerns about personal safety arose from both a deadly new virus and an economy in free fall. By June, concerns about the virus and the economy remained, and were compounded by new evidence of racial injustice in policing, widespread protests, and discussions of defunding the police,” say Phillip Levine and Robin McKnight, co-authors of the Brookings report.
The numbers back up the analysis.
After President Donald Trump proclaimed a national emergency on March 13, gun sales surged, with an additional 700,000 purchases over and above the normal expectation for the month.
Sales returned to normal levels for April and May, but the numbers skyrocketed again in June as protests, riots and discussions of defunding police occurred, resulting in 3.9 million purchases, 1.4 million over what was recorded for June of 2019. This June’s total for background checks was an all-time record for the 14 years the FBI has been using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. In July of this year, the FBI’s background checks were 79% higher than the total for the same month in 2019, coming in at the second-highest total with over 3.6 million background checks.
With March being the FBI’s 3rd highest background check month ever, that means that 2020 has already given us the three highest months of background checks over the last 14 years.
As one might guess, increased gun sales correlate to locations near the cities experiencing the unrest. Seattle, for example, in just the first seven months of this year, has already seen a 55% increase in requests for background checks over what it would ordinarily see for an entire 12-month period.
Industry groups say that 40% of 2020’s purchases are for new gun owners. Of those five million first-time buyers, 40% are women and 58% are African American.
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