Pandemics, Protests and Firearms
38 Pages Posted: 11 May 2020 Last revised: 22 Oct 2020
Date Written: October 21, 2020
A record number of firearm background checks were completed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and during the protests following the murder of George Floyd. Using monthly state-level data, we show that the increase in firearm background check rates in March, 2020 and June, 2020 differ from previous gun-buying events in at least two important ways. First, the increases in the background check rates surrounding COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests are significantly larger than previous gun-buying events. Second, the gun-buying events of 2020 are non-partisan; the effect in Republican-leaning states is statistically indistinguishable from the effect in Democrat-leaning states. We provide evidence that the recent spikes in background checks are not motivated by gun policy uncertainty and a significant fraction of background checks represent first-time gun buyers. We also discuss policy recommendations that may alleviate any negative outcomes associated with expanded gun ownership during an unprecedented pandemic.
Keywords: COVID-19, firearm background checks, gun policy
JEL Classification: H75, I18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation