Pandemic associated with increase in violence concerns and firearm purchases

Pandemic associated with increase in violence concerns and firearm purchases

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UC Davis study links COVID-19 conditions to safety issues

A recent UC Davis study reveals that, aside from the inherent dangers, the COVID-19 pandemic is also prompting safety concerns from an increase in firearm purchases. Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, an assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine, explained that after looking at the intersections between violence, firearms and the pandemic, she observed an increase in both violence concerns and firearm purchases. 

“Even early on, it was clear that the pandemic had worsened many of the well-established underlying conditions that contribute to violence—things like poverty, unemployment, lack of resources, as well as social isolation, hopelessness, and loss—and we posited that these risks would be further compounded by what appeared to be emerging evidence of a surge in firearm purchasing,” Kravitz-Wirtz said via email.

According to Julia Schleimer, a research data analyst at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, the study used a statewide survey of California adults, which asked them questions concerning “exposure to violence, worry about violence, firearm ownership, firearm purchasing and civic engagement.” 

Kravitz-Wirtz elaborated that the study was designed to capture the lived experiences of violence within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing injustices rooted in systemic racism and other oppressive systems of power that contribute to the underlying conditions—for example, poverty, unemployment, lack of available resources—that elevate risk for, and compound the consequences of, community violence,” Kravitz-Wirtz said via email.

Examples of such instances included the use of law enforcement against protests and increased frequency and severity in cases of domestic violence. Specifically concerning domestic violence, Garen Wintemute, the director of the UC Firearm Violence Research Center, said that the stay-at-home orders are associated with an increase in intimate partner violence. 

Given the increase in overall anxiety, and knowledge that gun purchasing is historically driven by a desire for self protection, Schleimer explained that such motivations translate into an increase in firearms purchases. 

“[Violence] concerns increase at any time of increased social and economic stress,” Wintemute said via email.

In order to counteract the fear of violence stemming from these factors, Kravitz-Wirtz emphasized the importance of securely storing firearms, and storing them separately from ammunition. In addition, since many acts of violence are impulsive, she suggested temporary firearm storage outside of the home. 

Schleimer said that it may also be beneficial to address misconceptions of health risks and benefits associated with firearm ownership, in addition to conducting community-based interventions.

“I think that addressing people’s sense of collective trust in security will be helpful rather than stoking fear and concern,” Schleimer said.

Schleimer hopes that as the pandemic dies down and its health effects can be properly treated, the social and economic disruptions may be resolved along with it. 

Wintemute added that working together to address COVID-19 and its consequences would help decrease these fears. 

As public health researchers and practitioners, Kravitz-Wirtz said that their study raised many areas of concern that need to be addressed.

“We also want to look to addressing and reimagining the systems that create the conditions that contribute to violence by expanding the concept of public safety to include not just law enforcement, but also things like housing security, living wage jobs, youth empowerment programs and the like,” Kravitz-Wirtz said via email. 

Written by: Michelle Wong — science@theaggie.org

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Julia Schleimer’s name. The article has been updated to correct this error.