Is fear of civil unrest pushing Americans to buy more firearms?

Recently, there has also been fear that politicians will pass stricter gun controls

gun_reuters Representative image | Reuters

Civil unrest in the US began on May 26 this year, after an African-American George Floyd was killed when a police officer knelt on his neck, choking him. The Black Lives Matter movement kicked up in the US. The protests picked up pace in the coming months with deaths of other African-Americans like Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Purdue in the coming months and, most recently, on October 26, Walter Wallace was shot by a police officer in Philadelphia.

However, few of the protests turned into riots with shooting and looting. Sales of firearms in the meantime, have gone up. According to data reported by Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting, Americans have purchased a record of 16.7 million firearms from January through September in 2020.

According to Jurgen Brauer, chief economist of Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting, the total exceeds the previous annual high set in 2016—the year of the last presidential election—when 16.6 million guns were sold. There seems to be some correlation between the civil unrest and buying of the arms. As per a New York Times report, several Americans, especially women, trace their purchases of firearms to the time the anti-racial protests began.

In recent years, there has also been a fear that politicians will pass stricter gun controls. In a poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS, 52 per cent respondents seemed to think that stricter gun laws will lead to the federal government taking away the firearms they legally own.

The FBI, in 2020, processed more background checks for gun purchases in the first nine months of 2020 than any previous full year. As per the FBI, the spread of the virus seems to have motivated more people to purchase firearms. States with the largest jumps in gun buying include New Jersey and Michigan.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, on October 29, indicated that the US may be headed toward civil unrest as votes are being tallied. “I'm worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or weeks to be finalised there is a risk of civil unrest," said Zuckerberg, who was grilled by the Senate over the spread of misinformation and alleged suppression of conservative views.

Facebook has tightened its rules on political advertising ahead of the 2020 election. Ad publishers, however, can get the ads loaded before a deadline and disseminate them later. In the Facebook paid posts library—a list viewable by the public—for President Donald Trump's campaign, what appeared to be a victory ad is already visible. A screenshot of the ad was tweeted senior media advisor for Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, Megan Clasen. Several such ads are said to be present on Facebook.

So, could civil unrest be in the offing in the US and is the sudden increase in buying of firearms therefore justified? “The year 2020 has been just one long advertisement for why someone may want to have a firearm to defend themselves,” said Douglas Jefferson, the vice president for the National African American Gun Association told the New York Times.

Shop owners are said to have been selling guns to African-Americans and women—several of them first-time owners. According to a survey conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) in August, five million Americans had opted to become first-time gun owners in the first seven months of 2020. Both liberals and conservatives seem to be jostling for ammunition so that they are ready to brace for whatever comes next.

While Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has described gun violence as a ‘public health epidemic’ in the US, since 2016, President Donald Trump has worked to loosen gun controls and reversed a regulation implemented during Obama's tenure, which restricted the sale of firearms to people deemed mentally unable to manage their affairs by the Social Security Administration.

Civil unrest or not, polarised political views and police handling of African-Americans in detention seem to have given rise to insecurity among US citizens and while the elections may contribute to the tension, one cannot say for sure that scuffles won’t break out as votes are being tallied. 

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