COVID-19 Puts a Spotlight on America's Gun Problem

Only in the United States can guns make their way to the center of a public health crisis.

gloved hand with a gun
(Image credit: Design By Morgan McMullen / Getty Images)

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.

The New York Times reported 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 since 2002.

"I’m not sure I understand it," says Tom Kubiniec, CEO of SecureIt, 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: "LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!" The tweet refers to the historic gun safety legislation Virginia recently passed, 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.

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 skyrocketing and millions of children at home with unprotected firearms (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.

protestors rally against stay at home order at washington state capitol

Men carrying guns gather with hundreds of others at a "Hazardous Liberty! Defend the Constitution!" rally to protest the stay-at-home order in Washington on April 19, 2020.

(Image credit: Karen Ducey / Getty Images)

"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’s rhetoric has a cost, and that is American lives."

The NRA is working hard to remain relevant 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—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 across the nation, they'll realize that guns won't save us. Testing millions of Americans will.

Join Moms Demand Action in the fight against gun violence (straight from your couch!) by texting READY to 64433

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Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.