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Stimulus Checks, Free Time and Crime: Why Millions of Americans Bought Guns in 2020

Gun Sales 2020

Gun sales have been surging significantly for much of the last year, even to the point where there’s an ammunition shortage.

CNN recently looked at the why of the surge, as well as how large it was. It’s been estimated that there were 8 million new gun owners in the U.S. in the year 2020.

According to the report, while the government does not keep track nationally of how many guns have been sold,  4.7 million background checks took place in the month of March 2021, an all-time high since the FBI began keeping track 20 years ago, and a 77 percent increase over March 2019. And of those, two million were for new gun purchases.

CNN also found that half of gun buyers in 2020 were women, and that one-fifth each of the purchases were Black and Hispanic.

Philip Smith, founder of the National African American Gun Association told CNN about what he sees as behind the surge.

“To me, the pandemic was the line in the sand for a lot of folks that were even anti gun, because the pandemic made you realize that you may not have food in your cabinet, there might be social unrest, there might be mob violence,” Smith said.

Indeed, a few factors have been cited as reasons for rising gun sales. Stimulus checks have given people more money to spend on guns. The pandemic gave people extra free time, with some taking up shooting as a hobby. And as Smith said, the social unrest of the summer of 2020, as well as rising crime since, have convinced many of the need to arm themselves. Others, including members of marginalized groups, have purchased guns in reaction to the rise of extremist groups.

There are also some who have feared that President Biden, or state governments, will introduce some type of gun restrictions. This has typically been a worry during past Democratic administrations, but no high-level gun control has passed at the federal level since Bill Clinton’s assault weapons ban in the early 1990s.

President Biden has proposed stopping the flow of illegal firearms, as part of his multi-pronged effort to reduce gun violence. Biden has also proposed making it legal to sue gun manufacturers.

Jack McDevitt, a criminology professor and the director of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University, told CNN his own thoughts on what is driving the gun sales surge.

“We’ve also seen, in times of civil unrest, that we see people go out and say that they need to protect themselves,” McDevitt told CNN. “So they’re going to buy guns to protect themselves.”

 Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

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