It’s normal and quite predictable for gun sales to rise during election years as they have during the previous three presidential elections, according to a National Public Radio analysis. This year, however, the election, pandemic and national protests have sparked record gun sales and prompted a large group of first time gun owners to purchase weapons, many of whom stray from the typical demographic of the industry’s core of politically conservative, white males.
During a Sept. 3 conference call with investors, Mark Peter Smith, CEO of major gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson Brands, estimated that first-time buyers accounted for about 40 percent of sales in 2020. Industry analysts and other manufacturers and sellers have confirmed high sales amongst gun neophytes.
“2020 has created a lot of anxiety for families across the U.S.,” senior Michael Bagley said. “I think this has led a lot of people to purchase weapons for their own personal protection.”
Bagley believes that guns should not be used to exert power over others but rather to protect oneself from power being exerted over them. Similarly,parent Ivan Dixon* believes that a gun should be used to protect oneself and one’s family, as well as from an overreaching government.
“[My] original decision [to buy a gun] was made when Dallas County decided to mandate business closings at home, stay at home rules, [and] that kind of thing,” Dixon said.
Past elections have never elicited the same response from Dixon, but this year, he saw government intervention as a potential threat.
“It’s that loss of personal decision making and personal rights that are usurped by big government that concern me,” Dixon said. “So I’m like ‘hey, I need to arm myself to protect myself from what might be a threat down the road.’ I’m not worried about people freaking out today, but I’m worried where this road leads us to.”
In light of recent protests and political animosity, Viviana Leal’s* family has been going to the shooting range more this year. Leal feels that the potential change in presidential power, protests and overall tension of the country have sparked an increase in gun sales.
“I definitely see where it’s coming from,” Leal said. “I live in a neighborhood that’s seen a lot of threats on social media and Twitter, [so] I see why people are scared.”
The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) showed that eight of the 10 top weeks for background checks happened this year—the highest occurring in March after the World Health Organization announced COVID-19 to be a global pandemic and the second highest taking place in June after the killing of George Floyd. This year’s surge has already exceeded last year’s record high of 28.4 million.
Reuters, an international news organization, conducted interviews with over a dozen industry experts, academics and gun store owners and found that many first time buyers include women, minorities and politically liberal people.
At the same time, junior class dean Claire Mrozek noted that the pandemic, economic instability and racial issues have pushed gun control down on the national priority list.
“Obviously, we have to do things in the order of priority,” Mrozek said. “But we just can’t forget about these crucial problems because we have a mental health crisis brewing if this pandemic continues for much longer, and guns and a mental health crisis are a horrible combination in my opinion.”
Even though national conversation on gun control is less prominent this year, 73 percent of students in the Upper School consider a presidential candidate’s stance on gun control to be an important factor affecting their voting decisions, according to a Nov. 9 poll of 141 students.
This election, the two candidates had starkly different opinions on gun control. President Donald Trump, who is supported by the National Rifle Association, loosened regulations on the export of firearms and reversed an Obama administration rule that restricted gun purchases by people identified as mentally unstable by the Social Security Administration. On the other hand, President-elect Joe Biden favors increased regulations, such as universal background checks and a ban on the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic rifles and higher-capacity magazines.
“[Gun control] is one of the bigger topics I would look at if I was casting my ballot,” Leal said. “That’s not something I would look at lightly… People should have the right to have their own form of protection whatever they see that is, if they’re using it properly.”
At the same time, Leal believes that it should be more difficult to get a license, as do Dixon, Mrozek, and Bagley. In fact, 92 percent of students support gun regulations, according to the aforementioned poll.
“You should not be able to buy a gun unless you know how to use it,” Bagley said. “I was lucky to be born in a household where I was taught gun safety at a very young age… I think there needs to be [better] education. No one should be able to buy a gun without a license.”
Mrozek believes that increased gun purchases enhance the possibility of such weapons falling into the hands of someone who cannot handle them.
“My opinion is that the more that guns circulate, the more chances that someone will use them the wrong way, whether by accident [or not],” Mrozek said. “We’re in the midst of a mental health crisis, we’re in the midst of some really substantial economic crises, [and] we’re in the midst of some really powerful emotions associated with politics.”
Harvard University Professor and director of the university’s Injury Research Center David Hemenway has, in fact, found that buying a gun significantly increases a household’s risk of suicide, shooting accidents and domestic violence.
“I am concerned that people’s right to feel safe infringes on my right to feel safe,” Mrozek said.
Mrozek believes that it is crucial that we effectively enforce the gun laws that are already in place and make progress on those where there is mutual agreement.
“That’s one of the biggest problems right now politically,” Mrozek said. “We’ve got to start somewhere, and obviously, where I think we should end up is going to be very different [from] a lot of other people, but we’ve got to start doing those things that there’s basic consensus on.”