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As healthcare workers lined up outside of hospitals in personal protective equipment preparing to risk their lives for COVID-19 patients, Americans across the country lined up in front of gun shops (opens in new tab).
The New York Times reported (opens in new tab) that 2 million guns were sold in the U.S. in the month of March alone—the second-busiest for gun sales after December 2012, the month of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and just following Barack Obama's re-election. Another alarming statistic to arise out of this pandemic: March 2020—when shelter-in-place orders and school closures rolled out across the nation—was the first March America didn't have a school shooting (opens in new tab) since 2002.
"I’m not sure I understand it," says Tom Kubiniec, CEO of SecureIt (opens in new tab), a defense contractor that designs and builds weapon storage systems, including armories for the U.S. military. "If you’re somebody who takes defense and safety seriously, you would have had a firearm locked and secured properly, ammunition stored safely, and you’d already be ready."
This idea of being "ready" is born out of anticipation of civil unrest—which has lately been incited by President Trump himself. The president went on a Twitter rampage on April 17 tweeting, "LIBERATE MINNESOTA!" and "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!," encouraging citizens to protest stay-at-home orders. Then he took it a step further, tweeting (opens in new tab): "LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!" The tweet refers to the historic gun safety legislation Virginia recently passed (opens in new tab), which includes requiring background checks on all gun sales, mandating reporting of lost and stolen firearms, and reinstating Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month policy.
Add Pennsylvania to the growing number of states where gun extremists are putting others at risk by ignoring social distancing protocols and protesting in tactical gear while heavily armed.Armed intimidation has no place in our democracy. https://t.co/7QXQysJihJApril 20, 2020
Only in America can guns make their way to the center of a global health crisis. After intense lobbying from the NRA, the Department of Homeland Security classified gun shops as "essential businesses." With domestic violence incidents (opens in new tab) skyrocketing and millions of children at home with unprotected firearms (opens in new tab) (last month, a 13-year-old boy in New Mexico was unintentionally shot and killed by his 19-year-old cousin, who brought the gun home to protect himself in the pandemic), the last thing people need is heavily armed protestors at state capitols demanding legislators somehow end the pandemic—as if any of us can control the virus. If you didn't think America had a gun problem before, allow the armed men in masks to prove otherwise.
"We know that the gun lobby works to sell guns in times of tragedy and natural disasters, and [the COVID-19 pandemic] is no different," Moms Demand Action Founder Shannon Watts tells Marie Claire. "During President Barack Obama’s second term, they talked about needing guns to ward off hurricanes, tornadoes, riots, terrorists, gangs, and criminals. In 2016, they talked about needing guns in case there was a breakdown in societal order [after Donald Trump's election]. After Hurricane Harvey, they passed laws to help loosen gun [restrictions] in Texas. It’s almost like they’re rooting for societal collapse from the sidelines."
The NRA is working hard to remain relevant (opens in new tab) during the pandemic, even if that means risking American lives. The FBI processed 3.7 million background checks in March, the bureau's highest number for a single month; meanwhile, the NRA capitalized on the public health crisis by publishing articles like, "Pandemic Exposes Dangers of So-Called 'Universal' Background Checks." The article stated that Americans "cannot trust government to act as a gatekeeper on their fundamental rights" and "Americans must jealously guard their right to privately transfer firearms without government interference."
As states slowly begin to re-open, we know that at least 2 million more firearms than pre-pandemic will be in the hands of desperate Americans—most of whom are now unemployed (opens in new tab)—waiting for the next threat. When the NRA and its interest groups decide to actually focus on the global health crisis that's already killed more than 40,000 people (opens in new tab) across the nation, they'll realize that guns won't save us. Testing millions of Americans (opens in new tab) will.
Join Moms Demand Action (opens in new tab) in the fight against gun violence (straight from your couch!) by texting READY to 64433
Rachel Epstein is an editor at Marie Claire, where she writes and edits culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also manages the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game, finding a new coffee shop, or analyzing your cousin's birth chart—in no particular order.
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