Coronavirus has Minneapolis-St. Paul wanting... guns

As concern about the COVID-19 outbreak spread, gun sales and permits to carry skyrocted in Minnesota and nationwide.

As concern about the COVID-19 outbreak spread, gun sales and permits to carry skyrocted in Minnesota and nationwide. Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

In these uncertain times, many of us are hunkering down and getting used to the whole “connect to the outside world via computer” thing.

And some of us are buying our very first guns.

Through the end of March, gun permit applications in Minneapolis increased by 35 percent in Minneapolis, according to Minnesota Public Radio, while in St. Paul, the average number of applications spiked from an average of four or five per day to more than 30. Off in Brooklyn Park, purchase applications rose nearly 200 percent over last March.

As Brooklyn Park Police told MPR, the vast majority of those applications were submitted by first-timers.

“I think as people struggle with the fear and anxiety of the pandemic and what that means, I think people are dealing with it in different ways,” Deputy Chief Mark Bruley said. “…And for some reason, some people feel the need to have a gun.”

Wherever that need comes from, it’s a nationwide phenomenon. Gun and ammo purchases are up pretty much everywhere. Last month, NPR reported that had recorded “huge” increases in sales, which jumped 68 percent just after Italy’s major COVID-19 outbreak hit the news. Background checks were up 300 percent from the previous year on March 16.

Part of that need—that anxiety—may come from perceived scarcity. In response to several gun dealers being shuttered by efforts to prevent the spread of disease, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying arm issued a warning to its members last month.

“Some anti-gun lawmakers are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to deny you and your loved ones your fundamental right to self-defense and your Second Amendment rights,” it said. The NRA went on to assure members it would not let this sort of thing happen—though, with the understanding that “times are tough,” it did ask for donations.

Yet another part of that anxiety stems from scenarios like the one proposed in this March 21 NRA ad: that we’re going to need guns to Mad Max our way through life when the government inevitably collapses and we start warring with one another over toilet paper.

The NRA and its members are in luck. The sympathetic ears of the Trump administration—after days of lobbying by the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Federation, and other groups, Time reports—recently ruled gun shops “essential” businesses, just like pharmacies, grocery stores, and hospitals, allowed to remain open over the course of the pandemic.

But unlike massive amounts of toilet paper, there are inherent risks with having guns in the home, as MPR pointed out, including increased risk of domestic violence and suicide. In the United States, up to three-fifths of gun deaths are self-inflicted. In Minnesota, that number is closer to four-fifths.

And those problems don’t disappear with a pandemic on. During a Monday coronavirus briefing, Minnesota officials estimated that some two-thirds of police calls over the weekend had been domestic violence-related.

If having a gun makes you feel safer, we can’t tell you to feel differently. What we can tell you is to look after your safety in other ways, too. Keep your guns safe and out of reach, especially if you happen to have kids at home with you. If you or someone else in your home suffers from mental illness, consider removing the gun from your home entirely.

And, if you are experiencing domestic violence and you feel you’re in a dangerous situation, don’t hesitate to get out. There is still support and shelter available to you.

If you need help, you can call one of the following.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Minnesota domestic violence crisis hotline: 1-866-223-1111