Image via Shutterstock Surge in gun sales
Image via Shutterstock

Fears of social fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has led to an 85% increase in gun sales from March of last year.

A jump in the sale of firearms could have catastrophic consequences for people living with intimate partner violence, an official at the Department of Justice wrote in a statement last week. 

“A recent surge in gun sales has increased already rising concerns among those of us working to protect people from domestic violence and sexual assault due to the already tense situations that may become more dangerous with a (new) firearm in the house,” wrote Laura L. Rogers, acting director of the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women.  

Fears of social fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has led to an 85% increase in gun sales from March of last year. Rogers advised families to lock firearms away, unloaded and out of the reach of children. She also provided contact information for survivor resources.

Incidents of domestic violence have skyrocketed under anti-coronavirus measures such as stay-home and shelter-in-place orders, which are vital for public health. Survivors trapped at home who normally might seek help at work or visiting friends have less opportunity to reach out or call a hotline without fear of being discovered. Adding a gun to that makes for a volatile cocktail. Research shows that having a gun in the home increases the likelihood that someone in the home will die in a suicide or homicide. A Brady summary of research found “when there is a gun in a home with a history of domestic violence, there is a 500 percent higher chance that a woman will be murdered.”

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Although most states have shuttered all businesses except providers of food, medicine and other essential services, at least 30 have buckled to political pressure and are allowing gun shops to continue operating.  

Guns stores “wouldn’t have been my definition [of essential], but that is the definition at the federal level, and I didn’t get a vote on that,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who faced multiple lawsuits from gun groups for an initial executive order that would have shut down firearm dealers. Pennsylvania, California, and New York also fielded suits from pro-gun factions.

Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, is among many advocates monitoring the situation closely. According to her, even when abusers do not shoot their victims, the threat of gun violence is used to rape, terrorize, or to hold victims hostage. 

“Abusive partners don’t cope well when they feel like they’re losing control,” Ray-Jones said. “And it often causes them to reassert their control over their partners.”