Social distancing for COVID-19 means that millions of children and family members are spending more time at home and in closer proximity to firearms.
In America, there are more guns than there are people. Before the coronavirus pandemic, about 4.6 million children lived in homes with unsecured firearms. Today, gun stores are reporting a surge in sales as Americans seek reassurance during this period of uncertainty. An influx of new gun owners and firearms in homes where people are anxious, isolated, or depressed can lead to preventable tragedies. Right now, it's more important than ever that we check in on one another and ensure we're aware of the risks of guns in the home and practicing safe firearm storage.
Here's what you need to know about guns and coronavirus — from how you can ensure those you love store firearms safely to how you can prevent gun violence.
Guns in the Home Amid Coronavirus
With more kids at home, storing firearms safely is more important than ever.
An effect of COVID-19 has been a surge in gun sales in states across the country. According to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC), background checks processed on March 16, 2020, increased by 300 percent over the same day in 2019. This a reaction to fear and uncertainty about the future. It's understandable to feel these concerns. At the same time, extensive research shows that adding guns to a situation does not make us or our loved ones safer. Consequently, more guns in the home are correlated to higher odds of homicide and suicide.
Every day, 8 children and teens are unintentionally injured or killed due to family fire, or a shooting involving an improperly stored or misused gun in the home. Unintentional shootings, suicide, and intentional shootings are all forms of family fire. It's also been widely proven that adding more guns into a situation increases the lethality of a confrontation. In fact, states that implement dangerous, so-called ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws have higher rates of homicide.
Data shows guns do not make us safer
More guns in the home are correlated to higher odds of homicide and suicide.
Homicide and Guns in the Home
- For each 10 percent increase in household gun ownership rates, the researchers found a 13 percent increase in domestic homicides involving firearms.
- Studies have shown that individuals with firearms in the home “were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not.”
- All studies included in this meta-analysis found significantly higher odds of homicide victimization among participants who had access to a firearm than among those who did not.
Domestic Violence and Guns in the Home
Unintentional Shootings and Guns in the Home
- 4.6 million children live in homes with access to an unlocked or unsupervised gun.
- 75 percent of kids know where that gun is stored in their home.
- Eight children or teens die from unintentional shootings every day.
- 1 in 5 parents didn’t know their child had handled guns without supervision.
Here's how you can play a role — whether you own a gun or not
We can all play a role to prevent gun injuries. Gun owners can End Family Fire by practicing safe firearm storage and educating others about responsible gun ownership. Non-gun owners can keep their communities safe by checking in and having conversations with their friends, family, and loved ones about safe firearm storage.
If you own a gun, always ensure that it is stored: 1) locked; 2) unloaded; 3) separate from ammunition; and 4) inaccessible to children.
We don’t have control over a lot right now, but in this time of uncertainty one thing we can do to help keep our families and communities safe is making sure our guns are stored safely.
When checking in with your friends and family around coronavirus, ask “Is there an unlocked gun in your home?” This one question will save lives.
You can prevent tragedies by ensuring your friends, neighbors, family, and community members are practicing safe firearm storage.
School closures. Daycare changes. Working from home. The coronavirus outbreak has dramatically changed our way of life, including our living and childcare arrangements. Amid these disruptions, make sure that asking about unsecured guns is on your safety checklist! Especially as our daily routines change, it's important that we reassess firearm storage and have ongoing conversations about responsible gun ownership.
Here are a few ways you can ensure your friends and family consider safe firearm storage:
Childcare workers and babysitters taking a new job: “Is there an unlocked and/or loaded gun in your home?”
College students moving into a new group house or shared living arrangement: “Does anyone own a gun? If so, how is it stored?”
When checking in on an elderly family member who may suffer from depression or a form of dementia: “Are there guns at their home? Do we need to rethink how we safely store firearms?”
When checking in on family members or loved ones who are experiencing suicidal thoughts:
“Are there guns at their home? Can they easily access unsecured firearms right now?”
More firearm safety measures and considerations to ensure responsible gun ownership:
- Gun safes with numerical combinations or fingerprint recognition locks are a must.
- If traveling, transport your gun locked inside a cool, clean, dry carrying case or storage box.
- If you are not confident or have doubts about gun ownership, consider other home protection alternatives, such as home security systems or guard dogs.
- Reassess your safe storage plan regularly. Have circumstances changed?
Preventing Firearm Suicide Amid Coronavirus
Social distancing could exacerbate our countrty's suicide crisis, which is facilitated by easy access to firearms.
Social distancing can be particularly emotionally difficult for those most vulnerable to isolation and loneliness. This is important to consider given the fact that our country has a suicide crisis, which is facilitated by easy access to firearms.
If you choose to bring a firearm into your home, safe firearm storage is crucial. Every day, 63 people die by suicide with a gun, and firearm suicides have gone up nearly every year since 2006. The risk of death by suicide is three times greater among individuals living in households with loaded firearms than among those in homes with unloaded guns, and people living in households with unlocked guns have double the risk of dying from suicide than those in households where firearms are locked up.
Populations facing disproportionate suicide rate:
- Every day, 22 veterans die by suicide. Fifteen of those 22 veterans (69 percent) use a gun. Veterans make up less than 8% of the U.S. population, but they account for 25% of the nation’s gun suicide deaths.
- A recent study found the suicide rate among Black girls ages 13-19 nearly doubled from 2001 to 2017. For Black boys, suicide rates rose 60 percent. Another recent study by Pediatrics found the rate of suicide attempts for Black youths increased an alarming 73 percent from 1991 to 2017, while suicide attempts decreased 7.5 percent for white adolescents.
- More than two children and teens a day die by gun suicide, half of whom are under the age of 16. For minors who have used a firearm to take their own life, 82 percent used a firearm belonging to a family member, and 64 percent of those guns were stored unlocked.
- White men make up 85 percent of suicide by gun victims.
Several policy solutions can prevent the gun suicide epidemic, including:
- Implementing waiting periods between the purchase and transfer of a gun.
- Passing or strengthening child access prevention laws, or CAP laws. These gun safety laws impose criminal liability on people who negligently store firearms. They are associated with a 26 percent decrease in self-inflicted gun injuries among youth and an 8 percent decrease in overall suicide rates among 14-17-year-olds.
- Passing extreme risk laws to enable family members and law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from individuals and loved ones in crisis or at risk of harming themselves or others; and
- Ensuring that disqualifying adjudications for involuntary commitments are adequately reported to state and federal background check systems to ensure that people at risk of self-harm do not have ready access to firearms.
We are anything but helpless to stop our country's suicide crisis.
Social distancing because of the coronavirus outbreak can have particularly isolating effects for people who already lack mental health resources, including veterans, people of color, and LGBTQ communities. More than ever, it is essential that everyone have access to lifesaving mental health support and resources.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741-741
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233
- Teen Line: 800-TLC-TEEN (852-8336) or text TEEN to 839-863
- SAMHSA Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990 of text TalkWithUs to 66746
- Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
- LGBT National Youth Talkline: 800-246-7743
- Steve Fund: Are you a young person of color? Feeling down, stressed or overwhelmed? Text STEVE to 741741
For more tips and tools, check out these extensive resources compiled by Team ENOUGH, our youth-led program.
- The Truth About Gun Violence and Suicide
- How to Support Survivors and People Impacted by Gun Violence
- Taking Care of Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Outbreak, AFSP
- Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19, CDC
- Coronavirus: Mental Health Coping Strategies, NAMI
- Coping With Coronavirus: Managing Stress, Fear, and Anxiety, NIMH
- How LGBTQ+ People Can Get Help and Resources During Coronavirus, Them
- The Emotional Impact of Social Distancing on LGBTQ+ People, The Mighty
- COVID-19: Veteran Resources for Managing Stress, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs