Guns and ammo are leaping off the shelf. People can’t get enough of them. Customers are lining up outside the door, eager to buy a firearm, you know, just in case things go sideways and they have to defend themselves or their family.

In March, more than 3.7 million total firearm checks were initiated through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the best-available proxy for gun sales in the United States.

And, no sooner did talk start about essential and non-essential businesses than gun stores, the NRA and gun buyers made it clear how they define “essential.”

First of all, if you really need that gun, at least store it safely

If you really believe that having a firearm and ammunition is as important right now as, say, rice or eggs or bathroom tissue or tending to your stay-at-home children, then you and I will have to disagree.

But do yourself a favor and learn about safe storage, which will help end family fire and reduce the likelihood of guns going off in the home. Guns stored unsafely in a house with domestic violence are like matches next to a powder keg.

Do your children (or any other people in your home) know where you keep your guns? Can they find them while you’re out of the house? Assume “yes” to both. Get a locked container and keep your guns and ammo in it.

“Please stop shooting. We need the beds.”

Elinore Kaufman observes that gun violence has killed as many people this year as coronavirus.

Elinore could be just another person like me, worried about all the guns and working for gun-violence prevention.

But she’s not. She works in surgical critical care and trauma surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. She’s worried about the number of beds she needs in her intensive care unit. She can’t free up enough beds because gunshot victims are competing with COVID-19 patients for them.

“Neighborhoods and communities that are already at increased risk for violence because of systemic racism and poverty will suffer [because of the pandemic],” she writes, “and violence in those areas may increase even further.” She’s asking for “strategies that range from licensing laws for firearm dealers and purchasers, to red-flag laws, to making data available to researchers, to community-based focused deterrence programs.”

She’s not saying that to reduce gun sales. She’s saying that because she and her staff need the hospital beds.

If a gun-buying spree in a pandemic troubles you, vote for change

Isn’t it ironic that both gun stores and hospitals are considered essential businesses? You can make the case that one feeds the other.

COVID-19 has taken America by surprise; however, the epidemic of gun violence in America has not. And our legislators have never found the political stomach to address it.

Still, I get it: You have other things on your mind during the coronavirus pandemic besides record numbers of firearm purchases. And your confidence in the ability of elected leaders to “insure domestic tranquility” may not be very high as we try to get through this.

So we’ll all have to work this year to elect people who will pass sensible gun laws and appoint sensible judges — people who will behave with public safety in mind when the next crisis hits.

We see a glimmer of hope from Rhode Island, where the governor extended the time period from seven days to thirty days for police departments to conduct background checks for concealed weapons and firearms. And a coalition of 16 Democratic U.S. senators is expressing concerns about guns ending up in the hands of prohibited purchasers.

More guns don’t make people safer. Least of all from coronavirus.

More people with more guns cooped up for longer. What could go wrong?

Again, if you know people who really need to buy a gun right now, urge them to store it safely. And don’t let your child play at their house until they do.

And if you’re overwhelmed right now and have to move gun-violence prevention to the back burner, go ahead. We’ll help you make sure that it doesn’t fall off the stove entirely. After all, if we don’t keep raising the issue — even during a pandemic — then who will?

John White is a volunteer with San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention.

photo credit: Seth Anderson

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