News and notes on guns in America

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Gallenson's Gun Shop in Salt Lake City. [Michael McConville/Wikimedia Commons]

Daily Bulletin: Another State Backtracks on Closing Gun Stores

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Despite taking a financial hit from the coronavirus crisis, the NRA has a new TV partner whose hosts have downplayed the risk the disease poses to Americans. And one more state is backtracking on whether gun stores are “essential businesses” after the Trump administration issued guidance that they were.

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The NRA’s new media partner regularly features coronavirus doubters. The pandemic is very real to the National Rifle Association: It’s prompted widespread layoffs and the cancellation of the gun group’s annual convention. At the same time, the NRA is partnering with the conservative media outlet BlazeTV, whose hosts have repeatedly questioned the gravity of the threat posed by COVID-19. In announcing the deal earlier this month, the NRA’s membership director told members the move would bring “up-to-date and honest information about the issues that will come to shape our nation in the years to come.” Will Van Sant has that story.

Another state backtracks on closing gun stores. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s decision to allow firearm retailers to remain open came after the Department of Homeland Security added the gun industry to its list of “critical infrastructure.” While the federal guidelines are nonbinding, Murphy cited them, “It wouldn’t be my definition but that’s the definition at the federal level and I didn’t get a vote on that.” Under the revised order, gun stores may operate under limited hours and by appointment only. The state background check system — which authorities shut down last week, effectively halting gun sales — will be back online this morning, Champe Barton has learned. The Democratic governors of Pennsylvania and Delaware made similar reversals last week. Reminder: We’re tracking how coronavirus shutdowns are affecting gun stores in every state.

Despite stay-at-home orders, major cities recorded a rash of weekend shootings. In Philadelphia, at least five people were killed in shootings between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. In Chicago, two teenagers were killed and 18 others were wounded over the weekend. Both Pennsylvania and Illinois are under coronavirus-related shutdown orders.

Armed “vigilantes” attempt to forcibly quarantine out-of-state residents. A man in the Maine town of Vinalhaven said a group of gun-toting neighbors chopped down a tree on Friday to keep him and his roommates from leaving the home they were renting over fears they could have coronavirus. “Now is not the time to develop or encourage an ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” wrote a Maine state lawmaker who said the men were targeted because they were from New Jersey.

Gun-rights activists sue North Carolina sheriff who halted pistol permits. The Second Amendment Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition, and Grass Roots North Carolina filed a federal lawsuit against the Wake County sheriff who stopped issuing handgun and concealed carry permits to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Leading up to the order, the county saw a 250 percent increase in applications.


93 — the number of homicides in Philadelphia so far this year, a 21 percent increase compared to the same time last year. The Associated Press

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Donald Trump appears on stage with the NRA's Chris Cox and Wayne LaPierre at the gun group's annual meeting on May 20. [Scott Olson/Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: White House, Siding With Gun Industry, Labels Dealers and Makers ‘Essential’

Good morning, Bulletin readers. After gun industry lobbying, the federal government has weighed in on whether gun businesses qualify as “essential” during a pandemic. That story leads your Monday roundup.

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The Trump administration has added the gun industry to its “critical infrastructure” list. Under the update, “workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product” including “manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges” join the public safety personnel whom the federal government advises should be exempted from stay-at-home orders and business closures. The move followed lobbying by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and other gun groups. The federal recommendations are nonbinding but meant to guide state and local policymakers. We’re tracking how executive orders affect firearms retailers across the country. Here’s our updated mapMore: The National Rifle Association is suing California Governor Gavin Newsom for not declaring gun stores essential businesses, though his administration has allowed local officials to keep them open at their discretion.

The surge in firearm sales includes “ghost gun” kits. Vice News reports that more than a dozen online retailers who sell parts for assembling DIY guns have issued statements apologizing for shipping delays due to “exceptionally heavy demand.” So-called ghost guns can arm people who could not pass a background check and legally own a firearm; because the weapons lack serial numbers, they also stymie law enforcement investigations. Meanwhile, an anarchist who wants 3D-printed guns to proliferate has reposted the digital blueprints. Cody Wilson claims his latest file dump complies with new, relaxed federal rules for gun exports and will withstand legal challenges.

ICYMI: Baltimore activists will try their life-saving ceasefire weekends as a virtual event. Gun violence continues to haunt the city, with a 27-year-old man killed and two teens injured in a shooting on Saturday. So Baltimore Ceasefire 365 is figuring out how to recreate its evidence-backed strategy online. The next ceasefire weekend is scheduled for May 8 – 10. “Murder hasn’t taken a break,” Erricka Bridgeford, who runs Baltimore Ceasefire 365, told The Trace’s J. Brian Charles. “And just like your buildings need to be cleansed from coronavirus, our neighborhoods need to be cleansed from murders.” Read the story.

Social distancing is sinking a safe storage ballot initiative. The proposal in Oregon would hold gun owners liable for not locking up their firearms or failing to report their lost or stolen weapons within 24 hours. It needs more than 110,000 signatures to make the November ballot, but canvassing efforts have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the past two legislative sessions, gun reform bills foundered along with other progressive measures when Republican lawmakers walked out rather than allow votes on the proposals.

An ammo maker is donating N95 masks to healthcare providers. Federal Ammunition, a Minnesota-based subsidiary of publicly traded conglomerate Vista Outdoor, “reallocated cases of N95 masks from their equipment inventory in Anoka, Minnesota, for donation to local hospitals,” Guns & Ammo reported.

Three police officers were shot, one fatally, during a domestic violence call in Phoenix. A 31-year veteran of the department was killed in the Sunday night incident, which began as a dispute between roommates. In Florida, a 15-year-old boy playing with a gun unintentionally shot and killed another teen. In Las Vegas, an intoxicated man with a gun killed two people inside his home before fatally shooting himself.


Three of the six people selected for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Citizen Honors this year were involved in school shootings. Five of the 27 finalists were recognized for heroism amid mass shootings. — Charlotte Observer

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Supporters of Baltimore Ceasefire 365 talk part in a peace walk on August 2, 2019. [ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images]

‘Murder Hasn’t Taken a Break.’ So Baltimore Anti-Violence Workers Are Adapting.

Erricka Bridgeford runs Baltimore Ceasefire 365, a grassroots gun violence prevention organization. The kind of work the group does to defuse conflicts and help victims depends on the person-to-person connections that social distancing makes challenging, to say the least. But with shootings continuing to haunt the city, she and her team, like community anti-violence groups around the country, are doing the best to adapt. “Murder hasn’t taken a break,” she says. “And just like your buildings need to be cleansed from coronavirus, our neighborhoods need to be cleansed from murders.”

In 2017, Bridgeford was part of a group of activists who started calling on residents to put down their firearms and instead join in neighborhood events. They had a blunt message: “Nobody kill anybody.” The efforts led to the formation of Baltimore Ceasefire 365 and its quarterly weekend campaigns, during which it works to produce reprieves from gun violence while partner organizations host resource fairs that connect residents with social workers, legal assistance, drug addiction specialists, and employment counselors. Other groups host cookouts.

It’s a bootstrap approach that’s now backed by research: A study found that ceasefire weekends were associated with a more than 50 percent reduction in shootings. Local leaders are happy to see it continue despite the disruptions wrought by the virus. “When you have what I call a disease in Baltimore, which is gun violence, that has been spreading on top of COVID-19, you have to have the intensity to fight both of these at the same time,” Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott told me. “I think it’s critical to continue the work of Baltimore Ceasefire and do it in a thoughtful way.”

For Bridgeford, the impact the coronavirus would have on her group’s outreach set in during a “sacred ritual” on March 23. At these events, her group blesses the spot of a recent homicide while dozens of people join in mourning. “The hardest part was not hugging people” who have lost loved ones, she said. Baltimore Ceasefire 365 has started holding its rites without notifying the public to avoid drawing crowds. “It would be irresponsible,” Bridgeford said, “for us to ask people to come outside their house in these times.”

Much of the group’s other activities have gone virtual. The group is using video conferencing to conflict management training courses, which it now pairs with coronavirus-focused sessions about public health best practices for volunteers and participants. More online meetings are planned for the coming weeks.

One of items on the agenda: what to do about the next ceasefire weekend, scheduled for May 8 through May 10. During a video meeting this week, Bridgeford was insistent that the organization could carry out the event digitally. “People will have to figure out events to have online to mark the ceasefire weekend. It looks like all the events will be virtual,” Bridgeford said. For instance, she hopes to use the occasion to organize an online watch party for a new documentary about Baltimore Ceasefire 365’s work.

Ahead of time, volunteers plan to walk through neighborhoods and spread the message by word of mouth — while maintaining the necessary six-foot distance. Bridgefort also floated an idea that Baltimore residents could sing from their front stoops in the same way that Italians sang from their balconies during that country’s quarantine.

As the date draws near, Bridgeford anticipates that her supporters will get creative.

“I can’t wait to see what people come up with,” she said.

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[Kevork Djansezian/Getty]

Daily Bulletin: ‘Coronavirus and Gun Violence … Make Both More Deadly’

Good morning, Bulletin readers. On opposite coasts this week, one city worried about the compounding harms of coronavirus and gun violence, while anti-violence leaders pleaded with politicians to preserve public dollars for prevention programs as the economic damage sets in. We’ve got those stories and more in your Friday roundup.

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Where shootings persist, hospitals suffer a double blow. It’s too early to know the macro effects that the pandemic and its byproducts – less crowded streets, spiking gun sales, economic strain – may have on gun violence rates. But in Philadelphia, where shootings are up more than 20 percent this month, the editorial board of The Philadelphia Inquirer is sounding the alarm about the way the two problems can collide in cities where gun violence is frequent and hospital beds are becoming scarce: “…The coronavirus has the potential of making gun violence more deadly,” the editors wrote, “not just because it limits violence interventions, but it forces gunshot wound victims to compete for essential health services with COVID-19 patients.”

Gun violence prevention advocates look to preserve critical government funding. Unable to appeal to lawmakers in person, the gun reform group Giffords arranged a video call during which community-based anti-violence groups in California lobbied state lawmakers to maintain funding for the state’s Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program. Legislators approved $30 million for CalVIP last summer, more than tripling the previous year’s investment. As The Trace has reported, CalVIP supports organizations that seek to reduce violence among black youth through mentoring, education, job training, and therapy.

California’s governor to local officials: It’s up to you whether gun stores stay open. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order didn’t classify firearm retailers as “essential critical infrastructure workers,” leaving some officials trying to force stores to close, while others allowed them to continue operating. On Wednesday, Newsom said his administration will continue to leave those decisions to local law enforcement.

We’re tracking how coronavirus shutdowns are affecting gun dealers. Among the latest developments:

  • In Delaware, Governor John Carney amended his emergency order to allow gun sales by appointment after Second Amendment advocacy groups decried state efforts to close down gun stores.
  • In Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo reopened shooting ranges on a limited basis after a local gun rights group slammed the loss of training for first-time gun owners. 
  • Mississippi joined the list of states declaring gun and ammunition sellers to be essential businesses as Governor Tate Reeves overrode local closure orders. 

As gun sales boom, one sheriff offers virtual safety class. The sheriff of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, partnered with the National Rifle Association to offer a “new shooter seminar” on Facebook. “I understand we’re in a very uncertain time and a lot of people are scared and they’re fearful for their family,” he told local outlet KYW. “If you’re not 100 percent comfortable with it, don’t buy [a gun] just because you think it’s what should be done.” ICYMI: The Trace’s Alain Stephens, a military vet and longtime gun owner, wrote a primer on the dos and don’ts of keeping a firearm in the house.

South Dakota’s governor signs legislation relaxing gun laws. Among the seven gun-related bills enacted by Republican Kristi Noem are measures that allow residents to carry guns on motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles; allow minors to possess pistols at home, during gun safety courses, and when hunting; and give counties the option of allowing concealed guns in court buildings.


Up to 32 percent of youth firearm deaths could be prevented with safe gun storage, a 2019 JAMA Pediatrics study found. But as The Trace has documented, only a handful of states have laws requiring gun owners to lock up their weapons.

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[Tara Pixley]

Daily Bulletin: Another Lawsuit Is Challenging an Order Deeming Gun Stores ‘Nonessential’

Good morning, Bulletin readers. As the nation scrambles to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, many states have ordered a halt to “nonessential” business. Our new effort to track what that means for gun dealers leads your Thursday round-up.

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NEW from THE TRACE: How coronavirus shutdowns are affecting gun stores in each state. For the last week, we’ve been bringing you coverage of the states under stay-at-home orders that have either granted “essential business” exemptions to gun stores, allowing them to operate, or forced them to close amid an unprecedented sales surge. Daniel Nass has compiled each state’s policy in this interactive map, and will continue to track the rapidly changing situation. Did we miss something? Shoot Daniel an email at [email protected].

Another lawsuit is challenging an order deeming gun stores nonessential. A customer of Bighorn Firearms in Denver is suing the city over it’s new stay-at-home order. “We are not looking to create a big problem. We just want a clear cut definition of whether or not we can continue to do this,” said the shop’s owner, who had a customer file it on his behalf per the judge’s request. Gun-rights supporters filed similar suits over closure orders in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (The Pennsylvania case was dismissed, but the governor later allowed gun stores to operate with certain restrictions.)

Gunmaker Remington offers New York plant for manufacturing hospital supplies. The million-square-foot facility temporarily closed after Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a stay-at-home order for all nonessential workers. Remington’s CEO wrote Cuomo and President Donald Trump to offer the plant for the production or distribution of medical supplies like ventilators and hospital beds.

The NIH is calling for gun violence research proposals. In December, Congress awarded $25 million to be divided evenly among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to study gun violence, the first time taxpayer money had been allocated for that purpose in over two decades. Last month, the CDC put out a call for proposals. Now, the NIH is seeking applications “to conduct research on firearm injury and mortality prevention.” Two funding opportunities (here and here) set aside up to $600,000, and applications are due in May.

Another state legislature’s abrupt adjournment leaves gun reform bills on the table. Bipartisan legislation in Arizona that would prohibit gun possession for domestic offenders and child abusers was left in limbo when lawmakers suspended their session until April 13. Last week, the Minnesota Legislature also adjourned until April, leaving the fate of a universal background check bill and a red flag measure uncertain. Nine other states weighing red flag proposals abruptly delayed sessions because of the pandemic.


 the number of statewide closure orders that have forced gun stores to shutter. — The Trace

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[AP/Charles Krupa]

Daily Bulletin: Firearms Industry Trade Group Lobbies to Keep Gun Stores Open

Good morning, Bulletin readers. As local reports of surging firearms sales continue, gun industry associations and legal groups have been working to ensure that gun stores continue to serve customers even when most other retail business are shuttered. Catch up on the latest developments in your midweek roundup.

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Firearms industry trade group lobbies to keep gun stores open. The head of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) told The Wall Street Journal he had been pressing federal and state officials to allow gun shops to remain open despite stay-at-home decrees that have shuttered retailers around the country. The feds already consider gunmakers with law enforcement or defense clients to be essential businesses; the NSSF has been pushing for a “critical infrastructure” designation for the entire firearms industry. We’ve been tracking which states have exempted gun stores from closure orders and which others have deemed them non-essential and ordered them to stop sales. But the situation remains fluid: 

  • In California, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department began closing gun shops one by one yesterday, but abandoned the effort less than 12 hours later after guidance from the county’s counsel that they could remain open under the state’s stay home order.
  • In Pennsylvania, a lawsuit challenging gun store closures was narrowly rejected by the state Supreme Court. But the governor has quietly allowed gun dealers to reopen for individual appointments during limited hours. 

Gun rights group sues New Jersey over stopping gun sales. Yesterday, Champe Barton reported how Garden State authorities coupled the closure of gun dealers with shutting down the state’s background check system, making legal sales impossible during the pause. Now, a gun-rights group has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to reverse the policy. One New Jersey gun dealer found a partial work-around: The governor’s shutdown order allows for online ordering and delivery of goods. So the federally licensed dealer is ferrying ammunition (which in New Jersey, like most states, does not require its own background check) directly to customers, he told a gun-rights blog.

NEW from THE TRACE: A timeline of the NRA’s scare tactics during national emergencies. The National Rifle Association’s new video, which uses the coronavirus pandemic to argue that guns are essential to protecting Americans from the threat of public disorder, is part of its longstanding messaging playbook.

Attorney general to federal officials: Pandemic won’t stop gun cases. The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. Attorney General William Barr last week sent a memo to prosecutors and agents tackling violent crime, urging them to continue with their gun cases. “I am worried about things getting out of control,” he wrote, according to the Journal. Jurisdictions across the country have cut down on imprisonment and arrests in an attempt to ease the spread of virus infection. Barr has frequently decried actions by local progressive prosecutors to reduce convictions for low-level offenders, including gun offenses.


Before the coronavirus crisis, a survey found that an estimated 4.6 million American children and teens live in a home where at least one gun is kept loaded and unsecured. The Trace

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Daily Bulletin: NRA Slashes Staff and Salaries

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Coronavirus layoffs hit the NRA. And New Jersey finds a unique way to halt gun sales during lockdown. Those stories lead your Tuesday roundup.

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The NRA is laying off staff and instituting pay cuts because of the coronavirus crisis. In an email obtained by Newsweek, Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s CEO,  informed the board of directors and executive council that because of “extraordinary challenges” resulting from the pandemic, “certain positions” will be eliminated, hourly employees will adopt a four-day workweek, and staffers will endure 20 percent pay cuts. Earlier this month, concerns over the virus forced the gun group to cancel its annual meeting in Nashville. In a statement, the NRA’s outside council said the outbreak had “caused a major disruption to our fundraising activities.” He added that pay cuts will “apply to all levels of the organization.” LaPierre’s total compensation in 2018, the last year for which tax filings are available, was $2.15 million.

NEW from THE TRACE: New Jersey suspends gun background check system, stopping gun sales. On March 21, New Jersey joined a growing number of states to mandate the closure of “nonessential” businesses, including gun stores, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. But instead of just telling stores to close and hoping for the best, officials shut down the gun background check system. The move renders sales virtually impossible. Champe Barton has the story.


  • The Rhode Island Governor’s Office confirmed that shooting ranges were “nonessential” and must close. A local gun rights group objected, citing safety concerns for new, inexperienced gun owners. “It’s a public safety disaster,” the group’s president told The Providence Journal
  • In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court denied a gun rights group’s challenge to stave off the closure of gun retailers following the governor’s stay-at-home order. 
  • New York State’s list of “essential businesses” does not include gun stores, and has already forced their closure.
  • Connecticut and Ohio joined Illinois in allowing gun shops to operate despite stay-at-home orders.

Keeping kids safe amid school closures in the nation’s capital. The Washington Post took a look at how community leaders are working to keep at-risk D.C. children shielded from gun violence during the coronavirus crisis. School resource officers, teachers, and outreach workers are trying to maintain contact with students, and violence interrupters are working to stop youth disputes from turning violent, albeit while donning gloves and practicing social distancing. “A lot of the kids who don’t see each other during the day are starting to interact,” one outreach worker said. “This is going to be a test of all the settlements of disagreements.”

ICYMI: As in Washington, violence interrupters continue to work in Chicago under Illinois’s stay-at-home order — except now they’re also pulling double-duty as public health educators, as The Trace’s Lakeidra Chavis reported last week.

Oregon police: In case of emergency, put that new gun down and call 911. State Police conducted nearly 20,000 background checks in the first two weeks of March, compared to 31,060 in all of March 2019. Bend Police Lieutenant Juli McConkey told local newspaper The Bulletin that while fear may have prompted some citizens to buy guns, they shouldn’t act on their own. “If someone is a witness or victim of looting, burglary, or robbery we want people to call 911 and not to take matters into their own hands.”


Yelp user interest in guns and ammunition is up 360 percent from March 8 through March 18. The Verge

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[Scott Olson/Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: ‘Stay-at-Home’ Rules in Illinois Exempt Gun Suppliers and Retailers

Good morning, Bulletin readers. The fear caused by that the coronavirus is creating conditions that the National Rifle Association is now openly exploiting. And the precautions the pandemic necessitates are subjecting the families of gun violence victims to additional hardships. Find those stories and more in your Monday roundup.

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The NRA uses coronavirus fears to promote gun ownership and push conspiracy theories. A new four-minute video from the group features a disabled woman of color wielding an assault-style weapon. She tells viewers, “You might be stockpiling up on food… to get through this current crisis, but if you aren’t preparing to defend yourself when everything goes wrong, you’re really just stockpiling for somebody else.” The video goes on to repeat the false claims (debunked here by The Trace) that New Orleans Police carried out widespread gun confiscation during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and predicts that gun seizures and restrictions will ensue during the current pandemic. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut called the video “sickening.” The NRA, along with conservative media outlets, have used his criticism to bring further attention to the ad.

They lost loved ones to a mass shooting. The viral outbreak means they have to mourn alone. After a gunman fatally shot four people at a Missouri gas station last weekend, the victims’ families have had to process their losses without the support of public vigils, memorial services, or hugs from visiting relatives. “What was already a tragic situation has been compounded by the coronavirus,” reports The New York Times. “The families will mostly be grieving in solitude.”

Illinois’s “stay-at-home” rules exempt gun suppliers and retailers. Governor Jay Pritzker’s executive order appears to set the state apart from California, where the authorities have shut down at least one gun shop, and Pennsylvania, whose governor declared gun shops “nonessential.” A gun rights group, the Firearms Policy Coalition, filed suit in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on Friday to reverse that determination. Late Sunday night, the court dismissed the suit.

Meanwhile, New York State’s shutdown order forced the closure of a gun manufacturing plant. Employees at a Remington facility in the town of Ilion told the gun rights blog The Truth About Guns that they’ve been directed to close.

To get around Nevada’s virus-fighting measures, one gun shop is offering curbside service. Reno Guns & Range has arranged for prospective gun buyers to fill out paperwork outside the shop and then be escorted into the shop one at a time; prospective ammo buyers can order bullets and have a staffer bring them out.


You just panic-bought a gun. Here’s how to handle it safely. West Coast correspondent Alain Stephens, a military and law enforcement veteran and longtime gun owner, breaks down the dos and don’ts of keeping a weapon in the house. “Buying a firearm isn’t the same as stockpiling toilet paper,” he cautions. “And it’s a grave — potentially lethal — mistake to simply toss a powerful weapon under a mattress or prop it up in a garage.”

Trust in guns during crises is a triumph of marketing. Editorial director James Burnett talked to Caroline Light, a Harvard professor whose field of study includes “America’s love affair with armed self-defense,” about the efforts by the gun industry and its lobbying groups to sell firearms as essential to personal safety, despite the hazards they introduce for owners. “There’s so much money to be made in making the population fearful of its individual security,” she says.


At least 269 people were fatally shot in the United States between March 15 and 22, and 529 others were wounded, according to Gun Violence Archive.

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A nearly empty display shelf for ammunition at a gun store in Idaho on March 14. [AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane]

Trust in Guns During Crises Is a Triumph of Marketing

Caroline Light is a Harvard professor whose field of study includes “America’s love affair with armed self-defense,” as she put it in the subtitle of her latest book. Reading the extensive reports this week of a surge in gun buying around the country, she was not surprised.

“Firearms are increasingly marketed as the most rational solution to our sense of fear and insecurity,” she told me. “And this epidemic, to me, seems like the perfect storm for convincing a whole variety of different consumers, who may or may not have been gun consumers in the past, to look at guns as a way to make themselves feel more secure.”

Guns, in fact, do not make people safer, according to the research. And for most of its history, the American firearm industry did not emphasize self-defense in its pitches to customers. As recently as the mid-1990s, even with Americans still shaken by a historic spike in violent crime, survey results showed that most people who owned guns owned them for recreation — things like hunting deer, or shooting clays. By 2015, when the survey was updated, crime was down dramatically. Yet two thirds of gun owners cited “protection from people” as a primary motivation for having a firearm.

“That was a massive triumph of advertising by the manufacturers,” says Light. The National Rifle Association has echoed those appeals to anxiety in its own messaging. Light is careful to note that the gun industry and the gun lobby did not create the underlying conditions that have left Americans balkanized and jittery — i.e., the way the social safety net “was pretty much destroyed and obliterated by the end of the 20th century.” But they did aggressively exploit them. “The gun industry was very much a powerful player in taking advantage of these circumstances and shifts in our economic and political systems,” she says. “There’s so much money to be made in making the population fearful of its individual security.”

Now we are living through an unprecedented public health crisis that’s given Americans many genuine reasons to be afraid. To judge from the lines out the door at many of the nation’s gun stores, firearms manufacturers are cashing in nicely. Light, who was raised by gun owners in Virginia, doesn’t own one herself. “But I do think about other people, who at this moment right now of unprecedented turmoil are turning to guns, and I can kind of see it.”

While she empathizes with those individual decisions, Light worries about their collective toll: “Because I believe all the statistics that say that the more guns we have, the more gun deaths we have.”

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[Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP]

Daily Bulletin: When Gun Stores See Themselves as ‘Essential Businesses’

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Here’s a storyline to watch as state and city officials take increasingly strong steps to mandate social distancing: Will gun stores comply? Find the early answers from two states in your Friday roundup. 

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Some gun dealers have defied measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, prompting officials to enforce their closure. Philadelphia on Monday ordered all “nonessential businesses” to shutter, but gun stores remained open early this week as buyers flocked in. A city spokesperson told Philadelphia Magazine that enforcement of the order had begun and hoped gun stores would comply. In California – where the governor just announced a stay-at-home order for the entire state – the mayor of San Jose also declared gun dealers subject to broader shut-down orders and sent the police to close one shop without incident. “The one thing we cannot have is panic buying of guns,” the mayor said.

A Long Island police commissioner to pandemic gun buyers: “Let the professionals do what we do.” Nassau County, on Long Island, is another corner of the country to see a surge in gun sales. “The right to purchase a firearm is your Second Amendment right, but to purchase a gun because you’re afraid of lawlessness or looting… our cops have you covered,” Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder told Newsday. He added. “There’s no need to be concerned. Crime has actually started to decline a little bit because people are home.”

Congressman skipped coronavirus vote but made time for NRA event. Don Young, Alaska’s sole congressperson and an National Rifle Association board member, flew back home the day before a March 14 House vote on a coronavirus relief package. Instead, he attended a senior citizen luncheon where he made light of the seriousness of COVID-19 and attended a gun group fundraiser, according to his campaign Facebook page.

Maryland ramps up support for fighting community gun violence. Before adjourning early because of the coronavirus, lawmakers approved a measure that requires the governor to spend at least $3 million and up to $10 million each year on the state’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Program to further support evidence-based gun violence reduction strategies. The bill also includes $3.6 million for Baltimore’s Safe Streets program, which deploys violent interrupters to underserved neighborhoods to diffuse conflicts. Maryland is one of eight states to fund community-based prevention efforts. Last week, Virginia became the most recent, as Champe Barton reported.


Federal gun background checks were up 300 percent on Monday, compared to the same day a year before, according to the gun industry’s trade group. — Newsweek

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[AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: The Coronavirus Gun Sales Surge Is Straining the Background Check System

Good morning, Bulletin readers. A spike in gun sales has spared some American gun companies from a tanking economy, but put a strain on the background check system. Those stories and more, in your Thursday round-up. 

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NEW from THE TRACE: Gun company stocks rebound as the coronavirus sends market tumbling. Business closures and nationwide lockdowns have dealt withering blows to the economy since the emergence of the public health threat. But after roughly two straight weeks of stock market declines, publicly traded gun companies have rebounded decisively. Champe Barton has the story.

Baltimore officials: “Put down the guns” so hospitals can treat the coronavirus. A day after a mass shooting left seven people wounded, Mayor Bernard Young decried the city’s continuing gun violence amid the pandemic. “We can not clog up our hospitals or their beds with people who are being shot senselessly because we’re going to need those beds for people who might be infected with the coronavirus,” he said.

The coronavirus sales surge is straining the gun background check system. According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which administers checks in that state, the average wait time for a screening has gone from between five and eight minutes to two days. It’s a similar story in Pennsylvania, where stores are reporting unprecedented delays. The FBI, which conducts the screenings for most states, told Newsweek that its National Instant Criminal Background Check System “remains fully operational and will continue to process requests. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade group, advised dealers to consider waiting to complete sales when background checks are delayed.

Physicians and public health researchers talk gun violence in the time of pandemic. On Twitter, Dr. Emmy Betz, an emergency physician in Colorado, led a conversation about how the coronavirus might affect the country’s gun violence epidemic. Several healthcare providers expressed concern that the recent gun-buying surge, particularly among first-time owners, could lead to more gun injuries and deaths. Others feared that the isolation that can result from shutdowns and quarantines, as well as the stress brought by economic uncertainty, could lead to an increase in gun suicides. Do you have questions about what the coronavirus crisis means for the gun issue? Please share them with us.

Detroit man convicted in targeted shooting of LGBTQ victims. The 19-year-old gunman killed two gay men and a trans woman and wounded two others during a house party last year. Prosecutors said the victims were targeted for their identities.


71 percent of mass shootings (defined as five or more people shot) in 2019 occurred closest to hospitals that were not trauma centers, researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found. — JAMA Surgery

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The 2016 Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky. [Alex Flynn for The Trace]

Daily Bulletin: Coronavirus Cancels One of America’s Biggest Gun Shoots

Good morning, Bulletin readers. The Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky was postponed because of the pandemic. Plus: Anti-violence groups in Chicago hope violence interrupters can help halt the spread of coronavirus in underserved neighborhoods. 

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NEW from THE TRACE: Already fighting one public health crisis, gun violence interrupters take on the coronavirus. With much of city life in Chicago at a standstill, nearly 200 outreach workers continue to patrol the streets, helping communities avert gun violence amid a spike in shootings this year. Now — while keeping at the recommended six-foot distance — those workers are also acting as neighborhood ambassadors to inform residents about best practices for reducing the spread of the coronavirus. “To the extent that we are the sort of conduits to vulnerable neighborhoods, it makes sense for us to sort of disseminate that information because it’s an important public service,” said the leader of one prominent gun violence prevention collaborative. Lakeidra Chavis has the story in her Trace debut. 

Cancelled: One of America’s biggest gun shoots. The organizers of the biannual Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot near Louisville, Kentucky, had hoped to forge ahead with their spring gathering on April 3-4, telling earlier this week, “It’s just hard to believe that a little flu virus is going to keep it from happening.” But yesterday, the shoot was called off. Boom, click: In 2016, photographer Alex Flynn, a combat veteran, captured the firepower (and rightwing rage) on display at the shoot in this Trace photo essay.

A state background check measure that beat the virus shutdown. And one that may not. Lawmakers in Maryland have given their final approval to a bill that extends the state’s universal background checks to long guns like rifles and shotguns. Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who has supported some past gun reforms, hasn’t announced whether he will sign it. In Minnesota, the coronavirus may disrupt a background check expansion. Late last month, the state House passed a bill to extend checks to private sales, along with a red-flag measure. But because of the coronavirus, yesterday the Minnesota Legislature abruptly adjourned until at least April 14, leaving the fate of many pending proposals uncertain.

Reminder: We want to hear from you. What are your questions about what the coronavirus crisis means for the gun issue, or how our country’s abundance of firearms may affect the ways the pandemic plays out here? Please share them with us.

🚨The Trace is hiring.🚨We’re looking for a talented, creative, dedicated community outreach editor based out of our small Chicago bureau who can help us better meet the information needs of neighborhoods with elevated rates of gun violence. The deadline to apply is March 27. Read the full job description here.


Shootings in Chicago are up 36 percent so far in 2020. One caveat, per the University of Chicago Crime Lab: A particularly cold winter last year that kept people at home may have depressed the 2019 numbers. — The Chicago Sun-Times