Guns & America

The recent wave of civil unrest against police brutality after the killing of George Floyd highlights the increased militarization of American law enforcement — including for officers on college campuses.

The coronavirus pandemic appears to have helped spur an increase in gun sales. New preliminary research suggests those additional sales could be linked to higher rates of gun violence.

Armed counterprotesters have confronted anti-racism rallies in at least 33 states, according to a new analysis by Guns & America.

Gun sales continued to mushroom in June, apparently due to a confluence of Joe Biden’s surge in polls, the spread of COVID-19, and ongoing protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Americans bought 2.4 million firearms in June, according to industry estimates from Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting. That is a 145% increase from June 2019. Handgun sales make up the bulk of those estimates and increased at an even higher year-over-year rate of 178%.

At anti-racism rallies and marches across the country, protesters are coming face to face with police — but also with heavily armed civilians. America’s gun laws make it difficult to diffuse the tension.

This article is part of the Guns & America explainer series. You can read other entries here.

In cities like Denver, Detroit and Chicago, summer jobs programs are a key strategy in youth gun violence prevention. But this summer, the pandemic is forcing many cities to scramble to move these programs online while dealing with budget restrictions.

A National Guard soldier called in to help quell protests in Louisville fatally shot Kentucky restaurant owner David McAtee.

The COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests against police violence have put the country on edge, and the unrest appears to be a recruiting opportunity for some anti-government groups.

Experts say economic devastation, fear and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus — as well as heavy-handed government tactics — are pushing some Americans toward groups like militias that espouse self-reliance, armed resistance and a dim view of government.

Gun sales continued to boom in May, the third-straight month with a spike in estimated sales.

Americans bought more than 1.7 million firearms in May, according to estimates from industry analyst Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting. That is down from an estimated 1.8 million firearms in April, but an 80% year-over-year estimated increase.

The FBI says it performed more than 3 million background checks in its NICS database in May, more than 700,000 more checks than it performed in May 2019.

Julie Braley found comfort in the “VB Strong” stickers that showed up in business and car windows around Virginia Beach in the wake of the coastal city’s tragic mass shooting last year.

“It was nice to see that community coming together to support each other and kind of put their arms around each other in that kind of way,” she said.

Braley works in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and was on the city committee that spent months organizing plans for the city’s public memorials. She wasn’t in the building at the time of the shooting.

In many ways, life has slowed down during the coronavirus pandemic but gun violence persists, challenging outreach workers who are trying to stop the violence despite social distancing restrictions.

Portland Police Bureau Assistant Chief Andrew Shearer delivered grim news to Mayor Ted Wheeler and a pair of city commissioners during a February budget meeting.

“As of Monday of this week, in the year 2020, a shooting incident has occurred on average every 13 hours,” said Shearer. “So far this year, someone has been struck by gunfire a little over every two days.”

Though gun sales skyrocketed last month in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Rifle Association’s fortunes appear to be headed in the opposite direction.

Thousands of gun enthusiasts were slated to gather in Nashville for the NRA’s 2020 annual meeting this month, but like nearly every other large gathering planned for the spring it fell victim to the coronavirus isolation orders. That cost the group a valuable fundraising opportunity. The NRA says it led to layoffs.

As Americans flock to gun stores in the face of coronavirus fears, many gun dealers report an influx of new customers, taking home a deadly weapon for the first time. In response, long-time gun owners from across the country are stepping up to help these newcomers get some safety training in the age of social distancing.

Quantifying the number of first-time buyers is impossible, but anecdotally, gun store owners say there are many.

Americans bought millions of guns in March, apparently driven by fears of the societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Retailers sold more than 2.5 million firearms in March, a year-over-year increase of 85%, according to estimates from industry research firm Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF).

The FBI says it performed 3,740,688 background checks in its NICS database during the month of March, over 1 million more background checks than it performed in March 2019.

Employees of gun stores and gun manufacturers should be seen as “essential” workers, according to a memo from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published on Saturday.

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As people across the country stock up on supplies to prepare for weeks of social distancing, Americans are crowding into gun stores, with firearms on their shopping list next to toilet paper and canned goods.

Chris Haxel / KCUR

For years, Kansas City, Missouri, has suffered from one of the highest homicide rates among big American cities.

Researchers at Harvard University and Northeastern University found that the rate of fatal police shootings in rural parts of the country between 2015 and 2017 were about the same as in cities.

The researchers used five different classifications for rural and urban, including from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Census Bureau and one created by the statistics website FiveThirtyEight.com.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been in a years-long fight to decrease violent gun crimes. And now, it’s targeting domestic violence abusers.

Domestic abusers are generally prohibited from possessing firearms, but in many states, ensuring these offenders turn over their guns is difficult. A new investigator in the Denver, Colorado, District Attorney’s office is trying to change that by removing guns case-by-case.

The investigator spends his days listening to 911 calls, scanning social media and talking to family members, looking for signs that someone who has been charged with a domestic violence-related offense and who has a restraining order against them, has a gun.

Spending on gun policy advertisements has risen sharply in recent elections, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have concluded, amid widening political divisions within the gun debate.

Over four election cycles from 2012-2018, the study, “Guns In Political Advertising Over Four US Election Cycles,” found that ads referencing guns increased from 1% of total candidate-related advertisements, to over 8% in the 2018 cycle.

The Northeast has long been home to firearm titans, but recently the region has lost out to the South and Mountain West as more and more gun businesses follow financial and cultural incentives to relocate.

And for those firearms producers still in states with gun control measures on the table, there’s increased temptation to take their business elsewhere.

The United States passed an ominous milestone in 2018. According to data released in January by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a record 24,432 people died by firearm suicide in 2018.

That’s an increase of 578 from 2017 and the first time ever that more than 24,000 people have died by firearm suicide.

The CDC often takes more than a year to compile, analyze and release the data.

Over 60,000 people head to Las Vegas each year for a gun industry juggernaut: The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s “SHOT Show” a Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade show that is the main event for the $6 billion industry.

“This is to the firearms and ammunition world what the Detroit auto show is to the car world,” said Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is leading a coalition of 21 states, including Oregon, Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., in a federal lawsuit against the Trump Administration over newly announced arms export rules. The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, argues the new rules fail to meaningfully regulate 3D-printed guns.

The lawsuit is the most recent in a long string of legal twists and turns over the issue.

There’s been a massive wave of public resistance in Virginia to gun regulations proposed by the recently-elected and Democratic-dominated state legislature there.

In most American cities, gun homicides are on the decline. But Durham, North Carolina, saw its homicide rate rise in 2019. While the community copes with feelings of chronic violence, one outreach worker is dedicating his time to ending the cycle.

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