California Firearm Purchases, Concerns of Violence Are Up During Pandemic

Unemployment, isolation, hopelessness and loss contribute to violence, and during the COVID-19 pandemic those factors may be familiar to some Americans.

A recent study shows that California residents have become increasingly worried about violence during the pandemic, not counting mass shootings. The study stems from the increased rate of firearm acquisition, exploring the parallels between the two phenomena.

“We know that the pandemic has exacerbated many of the well-established underlying conditions and collective traumas that contribute to violence,” says Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, Ph.D., an assistant professor with the Violence Prevention Research Program at University of California–Davis who led the study. “And we were seeing already, even early on, that these things are compounding the burden of violence-related harm.”

In response to the pandemic, approximately 110,000 individuals — including 47,000 new owners — have acquired a firearm in the state, according to the study, making up 2.4% of all current firearm owners in the state. This increase aligns with an uptick in firearm acquisition nationally, which has been associated with an increase in firearm violence.

Of those surveyed, 12.2% worried that someone they knew might harm another person, while 13.1% worried someone they knew might harm themselves.

“For those who were concerned about others harming themselves, a reasonable share of them in particular were concerned about that person because that person had suffered a major loss related to the pandemic, including things like loss of a loved one, loss of housing, or loss of a job,” Kravitz-Wirtz says. “And we also saw sort of large increases in people’s worry about violence for themselves as well during the pandemic, compared with before.”

Of those who own a firearm, approximately 55,000, or 1.2% of all owners in the state, store at least one firearm loaded and not locked up, and said they do so because of the pandemic.

The research pulls data from the 2020 California Safety and Wellbeing Survey, which surveyed 2,870 California adult residents statewide in July 2020.

The study seeks to understand worry about violence in the context of the pandemic, compounded with the increase in firearm acquisition.

“I think one of the really big, 30,000-foot takeaways from this work is that violence touches the lives of more and more people than is typically recognized, and it happens through not just direct exposure or involvement with violence, but also through indirect and vicarious experiences that ripple across and jolt families and entire communities,” Kravitz-Wirtz says.

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