COVID stress driving more Americans, especially essential workers, to buy a gun

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Stress levels have been at an all-time high for most people this year. Now, researchers from Rutgers University reveal quite a few Americans are opting to calm those nerves with a new firearm. Notably, the study finds people who already own a gun and essential workers are particularly likely to purchase a gun within the next year.

Researchers report pandemic-related stress and an uncertain future have resulted in more Americans planning on buying a gun in 2021.

Overall, the study concludes individuals planning on buying a firearm over the next 12 months are experiencing “exaggerated threat expectancies.” In simpler terms, these people expect to face serious danger in the near future, regardless of whether or not that predication is actually realistic. Additionally, prospective gun buyers also appear to have a lower tolerance for uncertainty and heightened fears regarding COVID-19.

These individuals are also more likely to have dealt with suicidal thoughts over the past 12 months, work in law enforcement, or considered an essential worker.

“Essential workers are serving on the front lines of the pandemic and many are already facing systemic inequities that leave them experiencing chronic stress. The pandemic may be making that worse and leaving them considering options such as firearms in hopes that they will grant a sense of safety,” says lead study author Michael Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers, in a university release.

“Law enforcement officers already own firearms at a high rate and, in addition to COVID stress, may be experiencing concerns about their place in society as the racial justice movement has shifted public opinion about police,” he continues. “The thought of purchasing a firearm in the coming year may bring a sense of normalcy.”

‘Drive to purchase firearms prompted by sense that world is unsafe’

The study polled a total of 3,500 Americans on their “firearm intentions” for the new year. While most don’t plan on buying a new gun (2,364), a significant portion (516) have already decided they’ll be buying a new weapon. Another 596 are currently on the fence about bringing a gun into their home.

Among those planning on purchasing a new firearm, 26.4 percent just recently bought a gun in 2020. Researchers say respondents planning to purchase a new gun already own more handguns, shotguns, and rifles than any other group in the report. They conclude that these findings paint a clear picture of a portion of Americans who feel compelled to “stockpile” weaponry due to this especially chaotic year in the United States and the world as a whole.

“The drive to purchase firearms during the 2020 purchasing surge seems to be prompted by a sense that times are stressful and the world is unsafe,” Anestis concludes. “It may be that, for some individuals, acquiring a firearm brings a feeling of control and safety, which would explain the drive to continually acquire more during stressful moments. This fear does not seem to be driven by actual tangible threats in their surrounding environment, though, so the issue here is not that their lives are marked by a spike in violence, but rather that their fears are driving their perception of the world to come.”

The study is published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

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