From the New York Times news section, another upside-down article with the interesting facts toward the end.
Preliminary research data show that about a fifth of all Americans who bought guns last year were first-time gun owners. Sales usually spike around elections, but the sheer volume is notable.
By Sabrina Tavernise
May 29, 2021
WASHINGTON — It was another week with another horrific mass shooting. In cities across the country, gun homicides were climbing. Democrats and Republicans argued over the causes. President Biden said enough.
But beneath the timeworn political cycle on guns in the United States, the country’s appetite for firearms has only been increasing, with more being bought by more Americans than ever before.
While gun sales have been climbing for decades — they often spike in election years and after high-profile crimes — Americans have been on an unusual, prolonged buying spree fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, the protests last summer and the fears they both stoked.
In March last year, federal background checks, a rough proxy for purchases, topped one million in a week for the first time since the government began tracking them in 1998. And the buying continued, through the protests in the summer and the election in the fall, until a week this spring broke the record with 1.2 million background checks.
Biden’s election and the Democrats taking control of the Senate in January made it more likely that the Democrats would make it harder to legally buy guns. But it’s unlikely that even the Democrats will send armed patrols to search your house for your legal gun, so it seems prudent to buy now rather than to try to buy later.
“There was a surge in purchasing unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, a gun researcher at the University of California, Davis. “Usually it slows down. But this just kept going.”
Not only were people who already had guns buying more, but people who had never owned one were buying them too. New preliminary data from Northeastern University and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center show that about a fifth of all Americans who bought guns last year were first-time gun owners. And the data, which has not been previously released, showed that new owners were less likely than usual to be male and white. Half were women, a fifth were Black and a fifth were Hispanic.
In all, the data found that 39 percent of American households own guns. That is up from 32 percent in 2016, according to the General Social Survey, a public opinion poll conducted by a research center at the University of Chicago. Researchers said it was too early to tell whether the uptick represents a reversal from the past 20 years, in which ownership was basically flat.
“Americans are in an arms race with themselves,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents South Los Angeles, where the surge in gun violence has been particularly sharp, on the City Council. “There was just as much a run on guns as on toilet paper in the beginning of the pandemic.”
Now the gun debate is, once again, taking center stage, this time at a moment of hardening political division and deepening distrust. Sales usually spike around elections, but the sheer volume this time is notable. It also gives a worrying glimpse into the way Americans view one another — as people they want to protect themselves from. …
There is no single reason for the surge, but social scientists point to many potential drivers.
“There is a breakdown in trust and a breakdown in a shared, common reality,” said Lilliana Mason, a political scientist at the University of Maryland who writes about political violence. “There is also all this social change, and social change is scary.”
Maybe the media declaring “the racial reckoning” and the murder rate going up 34% had something to do with it.
Many gun store workers reported that last year set records for sales and also that they noticed different types of buyers walking in the door. Thomas Harris, a former law enforcement officer who works at the gun counter at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Roanoke, Va., said that around March last year, the customers he would speak with began to include more white-collar workers, such as people from insurance firms and software companies. He said many of the buyers were not conservative and most had never handled a gun.
“Outside of seeing something on TV or in a movie, they knew nothing about them,” he said, adding that they did not know how to load a gun or what a caliber was. He said many of these apparent first-time buyers purchased more expensive guns, in the range of $400 or more. The purpose, he said, was not to carry the gun around in public, but to keep it at home.
What leads to a surge in murders is bad people feeling the cops are unlikely to put them in prison for carrying an illegal handgun (handguns are used in 92% of gun murders with an identified gun): hence, the super-abundance of shootings at black parties during the George Floyd Era. For example, until the Racial Reckoning, the NYPD had largely terrified NYC’s criminal element into leaving their guns at home. But by a couple of weeks after Memorial Day, NYC’s bad guys were back to bringing guns to block parties just like it was 1990, so people shot in NYC doubled in 2020 over 2019.
In contrast, some homeowner legally buying a long gun for home protection during the Defund the Police era if anything probably reduces the chances of murder by discouraging home invasions. (The U.S. traditionally has a low rate of home invasions compared to countries with stronger gun control like the U.K.)
“They were saying: ‘We’re going to be locking down. We’re constrained to our homes. We want to keep safe.’”
The Northeastern and Harvard data come from a survey of 19,000 people conducted in April. Researchers found that about 6.5 percent of American adults bought guns in 2020, or about 17 million people. That was up from 5.3 percent in 2019, said Dr. Matthew Miller, a professor of epidemiology at Northeastern, who conducted the study with Deborah Azrael, a researcher at Harvard. While about a fifth of gun buyers last year were first-time buyers, the share was about the same in 2019, he said, suggesting that the trend did not start with the pandemic.
As for gun owners overall in 2021, he said, 63 percent were male, 73 percent were white, 10 percent were Black and 12 percent were Hispanic.
The pandemic accelerated a trend of rising gun sales. According to The Trace, a news outlet that tracks gun sales, purchases have been rising steadily over the past decade, with a jump around the beginning of 2013, after the Sandy Hook shooting. Sales did not change much under former President Donald J. Trump, but they exploded in 2020, up by 64 percent from the previous year. The single highest month last year was in June, as protests swept across the country after the murder of George Floyd.
The pace has continued this year: Americans bought more than 2.3 million guns in January, the highest since last July, according to The Trace. And overall in the first quarter, sales jumped 18 percent, compared to the first quarter of 2020, according to The Trace. …
What percentage of guns used in murders were legally bought? The Bureau of Justice Statistics actually surveys prison inmates about that. I’m not sure how much to trust the word of a jailbird, but here’s what they say:
Based on the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI), about 1 in 5 (21%) of all state and federal prisoners reported that they had possessed or carried a firearm when they committed the offense for which they were serving time in prison (figure 1). More than 1 in 8 (13%) of all prisoners had used a firearm by showing, pointing, or discharging it during the offense for which they were imprisoned. Fewer than 1 in 50 (less than 2%) of all prisoners had obtained a firearm from a retail source and possessed, carried, or used it during the offense for which they were imprisoned. An estimated 287,400 prisoners had possessed a firearm during their offense. Among these, more than half (56%) had either stolen it (6%), found it at the scene of the crime (7%),
Yeah, sure …
or obtained it off the street or from the underground market (43%). Most of the remainder (25%) had obtained it from a family member or friend, or as a gift. Seven percent had purchased it under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer.
Back to the New York Times:
But while research has shown that higher gun prevalence is associated with a higher rate of gun deaths — including suicide — the question of whether a sudden surge in gun sales prompts a corresponding rise in gun violence does not have a clear answer.
Dr. Wintemute, of the University of California, said he recently tried to find out. He analyzed federal background check data from January 2018 through the first months of the pandemic. His research showed that more violence happened in states where gun purchases were up the most — but that many factors were at play, including lockdowns and job loss, and that it was not clear that gun sales in particular were the driver.
Or maybe gun murders go up most during the Racial Reckoning where there are more blacks being told they are above the law, so law-abiding citizens legally buy more guns?
Nevertheless, he said, the buying surge was worrying, given just how sharp the rise in homicides was last year, up by a quarter, according to data from the F.B.I. An overwhelming majority of homicides in the United States are from guns.
But from cute little handguns, not from those terrifying hunting rifles that the Biden Administration is out to get.
The jump has continued this year, up by about 18 percent in a sample of 37 cities in the first three months, compared to the same period last year. Historically, however, the rate is still far below the ones from the 1990s.
“We have just turned the corner into some really awful territory,” he said.
Homicides in Los Angeles rose 36 percent last year, and the city is seeing no let up in gun violence. Through mid-May, the number of shooting victims was up 68 percent, while the number of reported shots fired was up 56 percent.
Chief Michel Moore of the Los Angeles Police Department said it had recovered more than 3,000 guns through the end of April. He said that on average, officers in Los Angeles are recovering 25 guns per day, and that gun arrests are up by 60 percent this year.
… In California, whose gun laws are some of the strongest in the country, the per capita gun death rate has actually gone down over the years. Violent gun death rates in the state dropped by about half from 1989 to 2019, said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, compared to a 13 percent drop for the nation.
Finally, deep into the article, the reporter reveals something that practically no NYT true believer has ever heard before:
Gary Kleck, a professor of criminology at Florida State University, said laws were often less effective than gun control advocates say. He said controls that targeted high-risk individuals, like mentally ill people, seemed to work better than those that sought to prevent young people from buying guns. Mass shootings, he said, were the least likely type of violence that laws would be effective against.
“Mass shooters in many cases are willing to die, working on a plan for weeks and months,” he said. “That’s the last person a law is going to stop. Gun control works with more casually motivated violence.”
I’ve been saying that for decades.
Some mass killers are too messed up to plan ahead, but most of these really evil guys are obsessives.
Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, said the focus on the sheer number of guns was misplaced.
“The critical issue is not simply the increase in the supply of guns but in the nature of the weaponry that’s being used in violent crime, and that has really changed,” he said.
Police departments across the country are reporting seizures of more powerful automatic or semiautomatic-style guns with larger magazines, he said, weapons that have a much higher probability of killing because of how quickly the rounds can be fired. He said it is not uncommon for dozens of casings to be found at a crime scene.
But these are typically large magazine handguns.