Gun Sales Soar When People Need Protection

John R. Lott, Jr.,

Police are cutting back on policing, and Americans are getting scared. Along with toilet paper, they are also buying guns and ammunition. Some are getting concealed handgun permits.

“So American … I’ll shoot the virus! … We don’t do smart stuff in this country,” joked Bill Maher on Friday on his HBO show, “Real Time.” It is easy for Mr. Maher to make fun of people’s fears, but one can easily imagine the social turmoil that will ensue if shortages become more severe or if lots of police fall ill.

In the 21 days from February 23rd to March 15th, saw a 309% increase in ammunition sales revenue compared to the preceding three week period. The greatest sales growth occurred in states with the most reported coronavirus cases. Bordering states also experienced dramatic increases, perhaps because people knew that the virus was on their doorstep.

Americans see what is happening abroad. Italy’s healthcare system has collapsed, and doctors must now engage in battlefield triage by only treating those patients who are most likely to survive. The Swiss hospital system is said to be just days away from a similar fate. Italian police have their hands full right now just with enforcing the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

The United States may be doing better than Europe, but businesses and schools are also shut down. Grocery store shelves are empty. Only 39 percent of American households say that they have $1,000 in savings to cover unexpected expenses. They are unprepared for what life might be like if the virus continues to spread.

Unfortunately for cops, telecommuting isn’t an option. Police departments in MichiganTexasColorado, and Pennsylvania are ordering their officers not to respond to certain calls. This policy is designed to help officers avoid the virus themselves and keep from bringing it into prisons. In Pennsylvania, prisoners at high risk of catching the virus enjoy the prospect of early release from jail.

The Los Angeles Police Department is issuing officers bacteria protection masks, goggles, and gloves. But in the rough-and-tumble process of making arrests, officers can hardly be sure that they won’t come in physical contact with offenders. Will that cause some officers to pull back on apprehending criminals?

If police departments are already reacting this way with only 114 confirmed deaths in the United States, what restrictions will police face in a month?

Citizens are being asked to avoid coming to police stations in order to limit their interactions with officers. Instead, they should visit department websites. Police departments refer to this as “coronavirus exposure mitigation.”

There may not be any zombie apocalypse in store for us, but many people are anticipating having to fend for themselves. The resulting run on gun stores has overwhelmed the gun background check system. Gun sales would be even higher, but licensed gun dealers have been getting busy signals when they try to contact the relevant federal and state agencies. Dealers have told me that they are having an “impossible” time completing background checks.

Politicians have not classified gun stores as “essential” businesses that are immune to closure, giving people extra reason to think that they may be out of luck if they don’t buy a gun now.

Gun sales were already increasing starting last fall, well before the virus became an issue. Anyone who has watched the Democratic presidential debates knows that gun control is going to be a major issue in the presidential campaign, with Biden talking about banning many types of semi-automatic guns and imposing lots of costs on buying any type of gun.

But with police cutting back their efforts, Americans have every right to defend themselves and their families, and should not hesitate to do so.

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