110,000 Californians Bought Guns During Pandemic, Citing Fear of ‘Lawlessness’: Study

October 18, 2020 Updated: October 18, 2020

Some 110,000 Californians bought firearms during the first five months of the COVID-19 pandemic, with fear of “lawlessness” as the top reason for their purchases, a new study reveals.

The study, conducted by the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California–Davis, estimated that 110,000 Californians bought at least one gun from March through July, including 47,000 who purchased firearms for the first time. The estimate is consistent with the data of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which shows roughly 557,000 individuals underwent a firearm background check in California, compared with 465,000 during the same period in 2019.

The most common reason given for firearm acquisition amid the pandemic was fear of lawlessness (76 percent), according to the study. It was followed by concerns about prisoner releases (56 percent), the government “going too far” (49 percent), government collapse (38 percent), and gun stores shutting down (31 percent).

When it comes to the root of those worries, however, the researchers cited “law enforcement use of crowd-control weapons” against “largely peaceful protests” and “heavily armed white supremacist and far-right vigilantes” for an increased fear of widespread violence, with no mention of violent riots that have persisted in many cities across California and the rest of the country.

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An LAPD vehicle is set on fire by rioters in Los Angeles, on May 30, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In addition, the researchers highlighted a significant change in storage practice, noting that many of the Californians who bought guns during the pandemic reported they were likely to keep those weapons loaded and not locked away.

“An estimated 55,000 people (1.2 percent of gun owners in the state) who currently store at least one firearm loaded and not locked up reported adopting this unsecure storage practice in response to the pandemic,” a preprint of the study (pdf) reads.

California has some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation. Declaring gun violence a “health epidemic” in the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed into law a package of gun legislation in October 2019 to expand existing “red flag” laws.

All 15 new laws came into effect in September. One of them allows employers, co-workers, and teachers, rather than immediate family members and law enforcement as previously required, to file petitions seeking “gun violence restraining orders” against anyone they suspect may pose a risk of harm to themselves or others.