Firearm-related purchases were up in March as the coronavirus spread through the country and more than two-thirds of the population were ordered by local officials to stay at home to slow its spread. The U.S. has yet to see civil unrest, but looting and rioting are possible as the pandemic sets in for the long haul, according to crime, economic, and behavioral experts.
“It could end up being something where there is public discord riots and such. What happens if the food supply or water supply is interrupted for long periods of time?” said Virginia Citizen’s Defense League President Philip Van Cleave.
“If they’re there in line and they manage to secure some food and some people could be desperate to get it away from them … you’d use the guns in self-defense,” he said. “It’s all about being able to protect yourself.”
Dr. John R. Lott, Jr., a gun rights advocate who founded the Crime Prevention Research Center, said concerns that the police could handle a possible uptick in crime are warranted and are prompting some to take self-defense into their own hands.
“You have police all across the country which are being restricted in terms of their ability to go and respond to calls,” said Lott. “Then, on the other hand, you have a lot of jails and prisons across the country which are releasing prisoners.”
“People are concerned about their safety, and it’s no different than, you know, wanting to have a fire extinguisher because of the possibility you might have a fire,” Lott said.
First-time gun owners are among those making purchases out of concern there may come a time when police are inundated or unable to respond to their call for help.
“During times of insecurity, people realize the government cannot be there for them,” said Van Cleave. “People who are waking up — I welcome them.”
In Van Cleave’s home of Northern Virginia, it is increasingly difficult to find stocked shelves at gun stores because of the influx in sales over the past several weeks.
The FBI ran more than 3.7 million background checks for people attempting to purchase guns in March, the most in a single month, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread in the U.S. In Virginia, 83,675 background checks were completed in March, according to FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System data.
It has also been difficult to get practice time in, he said. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam closed all indoor shooting ranges, classifying them “entertainment” and nonessential to be open to the public despite the federal government deeming them critical infrastructure. Van Cleave’s organization announced this week it is suing to reopen gun ranges.
“They need somewhere to learn,” Van Cleave said of new gun owners. “It’s like buying a car and not having anywhere to drive … People need to practice. Shooting is a perishable skill.”
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