OSU Professors on Increased Gun Sales

Oregon State University professors Aimee Huff and Michelle Barnhart recently conducted a study about the national increase in gun purchasing that has occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

The research speculates that the escalation of gun purchasing has occurred for three general reasons: independence and security, market signals and forces, and social connection and recreation.   

As reported in the professors’ OregonLive article, a record-setting surge of gun purchasing has occurred since March – spiking again in June after protests for the justice in the case of George Floyd’s killing began. Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and the incident was captured on video, leading to months of prolonged demonstrations, protests and riots in the U.S.  

The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that gun sales from March through July were 94% higher than throughout the same time period from last year. Firearms consultants also estimate that two million units were sold in the month of July alone, which is an increase of more than 136% compared to last July.   

According to Huff and Barnhart, there is an explanation for this surge.   

Independence and Security  

A study done in 2019 shows Americans feel purchasing a gun is a way of “asserting and maintaining independence.” Because independence is being threatened due to the pandemic – limited travel, the closing of businesses, the inability to enjoy standard recreations – many are buying guns to regain a sense of independence.    

NSSF estimates that 40% of recent gun buyers are purchasing for the first time, in an effort to feel more protected due to a time of “uncertainty and civil unrest.” More than 99% of recent sales are handguns, which research shows are typically used for self-defense – meaning people are feeling unsafe and that guns are necessary for protection.   

Market Signals and Forces  

Some governors consider gun stores to be a so-called essential business, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has allowed gun stores to remain open during the pandemic. Huff and Barnhart said this stance “reinforced the legitimacy of guns and gun retailers in the United States” by labeling them as necessary.   

On the supply-and-demand side of things, many gun retailers are struggling to keep up their stock, urging customers to buy while supplies are still available. This builds a sense of urgency in consumers.  

Social Connection and Recreation  

Firearms can provide social connection through going to shooting ranges, hunting and other related activities. Because these activities can be done outside, Huff and Barnhart speculate that they have become go-to hobbies, posing a lower risk of COVID-19 transmission. Thus, buying guns may make some Americans feel more socially connected during this time of crisis and confusion.   

By Cara Nixon