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NMSU public health researcher examines firearm sales in US amid pandemic

A New Mexico State University public health researcher has published a new study that examines firearm sales in the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic.


Man sits at table.
Jagdish Khubchandani, public health professor at New Mexico State University, published a study examining firearm sales in the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic. (NMSU photo by Josh Bachman)

Jagdish Khubchandani, public health professor in the College of Health and Social Services at NMSU, served as the lead author of the study, which examines public perceptions on firearm-buying habits during the pandemic. The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians Open, an official journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“Amidst the COVID‐19 pandemic crisis, firearm sales surged to record‐breaking levels in the United States,” Khubchandani said, citing data from the FBI showing that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System conducted more than 3 million screenings in March.

“The purpose of this study was to conduct a comprehensive national assessment of the views of the general public in the United States on changes in firearm sales, the perceived potential impact of the changes, and how these perceptions differ by a recent purchase of a firearm,” he added.

Khubchandani and his research partner, James Price of the University of Toledo, recruited 1,432 adult Americans nationwide to complete a survey distributed online in May.

The researchers asked the study participants a series of questions related to firearms, including whether they purchased a firearm between February and May. They also examined participants’ behaviors and beliefs related to firearms and their perceptions about changes in firearms sales during the pandemic.

The findings show 18 percent of the study participants reported buying a firearm during the pandemic, with a tenth of them being first-time buyers. Participants who purchased firearms were significantly less likely to believe that an increase in sales could result in adverse public health outcomes such as increased suicides, homicides, mass shootings, and crimes in society, according to the study.

“Those who purchased firearms during the pandemic were significantly more likely to have children at home, personally experienced firearm violence in the past, knew someone who was a victim of firearm violence, owned firearms in the past, or planned to buy additional firearms in the near future,” Khubchandani said.

He added that young, single, urban dwellers, health care professionals, and Hispanics were more likely to have bought a firearm during the pandemic.

The study also reveals firearm buyers differed statistically significantly from non‐buyers based on sex, age, ethnicity, marital status, education, having children at home, employment status, income, political orientation, location, and region of residence.

“Participants who did not buy firearms during the pandemic were significantly more likely to believe that firearm sales and first‐time ownership/buying of firearms had increased during the pandemic,” Khubchandani said, “and they were significantly more likely to believe that the surge in firearm sales would result in increased firearm access for children, the mentally ill, drug users, criminals, and older adults.”

He added, “Despite the differences, the majority of the buyers and non-buyers agreed that firearm laws in the U.S. should be stricter.”

Khubchandani warns the increased prevalence of household ownership of firearms, combined with the stresses of COVID‐19, increases the risk of firearm‐related morbidity and mortality.

“COVID‐19-induced firearm buying has resulted in almost one-fifth of our sample buying a firearm during the pandemic, and the leading reason was for the protection of self and family,” he said. “However, it is disconcerting that firearms bought for protection may contribute to a potential increase in firearm suicides.”

Although the study found key differences in perceptions among participants based on firearm purchases during the pandemic, Khubchandani stresses that additional research is needed to assess the long‐term effects of the recent surge in firearm sales.

The study is available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/emp2.12293.