May 8, 2021 update: if you thought gun sales shot through the roof at the start of the pandemic, new research from the National Sport Shooting Foundation shows that there was a 13% increase in gun sales during the first three months of 2021 compared to 2020. That's an astronomical ~5.5 million guns sold from January to March alone.
Toilet paper sales might be a hint of the catastrophic societal breakdown we can see during a time of real trouble. You don’t agree? If people felt the need to hoard toilet paper, to keep their anus comfortable during this passing health crisis (and, yes, I did say “passing” because this will pass), how will people react to a crisis with an undetermined outcome? Things might get ugly fast — like when terrorists explode a small nuclear bomb in Manhattan, and, simultaneously, Memphis. (I picked those two places for the sake of alliteration.) Unfortunately, the chances of that happening might be better than you and I are aware. (Of course, terrorists most likely will not choose targets because of alliteration.)
Now let’s talk about gun sales.
People buy guns for many reasons. Self-defense is one of the biggest drivers of sales. Research by Gallup showed that 60% of people buying guns do so for self-defense. During March, when the full impact of the Coronavirus pandemic was taking hold, people were preparing to purchase guns. I say “preparing” because I’m using background checks as a barometer. Those checks are the requirement to buy a firearm. According to the FBI, there were an incredible 3,740,688 background checks.
The vast majority of Americans would pass a background check. Here is a list of things that would prevent you from buying a firearm:
And if you think this is restrictive, there were even more gun control laws in the Old West than there are today.
Background checks do not translate precisely to gun sales, but they come pretty close. And this number, over three million, tells us that more guns were sold than any time since the background check system began in 1998. Americans were well-armed before this, and now, well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a rise in the number of burglars shot though we might also see a proportionate increase in the number of accidental deaths by firearms. Dr. David Hemenway, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, did research that showed “the evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home increases the likelihood not only that a household member will be shot accidentally, but also that someone in the home will die in a suicide or homicide.” (Hmm, it seems important to mention that I, the guy writing this article, own several firearms, handguns, for which I’m not going to apologize.)
But gun safety isn’t the point of this article. The point is, why are so many people buying guns? Do we think someone is going to break into our home and steal our toilet paper during the COVID-19 pandemic? I doubt I would shoot someone for trying to steal my toilet paper. Now let’s imagine that all of a sudden, there is a food shortage. (I’ve seen a couple of news articles that suggest it’s a possibility.) Supermarkets have had bare shelves for weeks. My refrigerator is empty except for three New York steaks, choice not prime, and my pantry is down to four cans of chili. Would I shoot someone to protect my three New York steaks and four cans of chili, when I have no idea when or where I will get food again? Would you?
Guns sales are up because we, Americans, are afraid. If we weren’t, 3,740,688 would not have applied for background check, the first step to buying a gun. It’s pretty simple.
Do you know the government’s position on gun sales during the Coronavirus pandemic?
Of the forty-two states that have required nonessential businesses to close, at least thirty of those states have designated gun shops as essential businesses and allowed them to stay open. A recent Department of Homeland Security advisory named gun shops as “essential” to suggest they can remain open.
Now let’s go back to the nightmare of a terrorist nuclear bomb exploding in Panama City and Pasadena (remember, I like alliteration; oh, you choose between Pasadena Texas or California). How do you think people might react to that and the ensuing economic devastation? Have you ever watched the Walking Dead?