HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania State Police conducted more than twice as many firearms background checks in June as they did in the same month a year ago.
The state police did 114,509 background checks for people trying to buy firearms in June, compared to 46,280 in June 2019, Ryan Tarkowski, a state police spokesman, said Monday.
June was the second time since the pandemic’s impact began to be felt in Pennsylvania that the state police conducted more than 100,000 background checks in a month. In March, the state police did 102,872 background checks for people seeking to buy firearms.
It’s part of a national trend of record-breaking gun sales fueled by public concern over moves to defund police and anxiety over the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according advocates on both sides of the gun issue.
Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting, a consulting firm tracking the firearms industry, estimated that nationally firearms sales increased 145% in June compared to the same period in 2019.
“Demand was particularly strong for handguns,” said SAAF Chief Economist Jurgen Brauer. “The first week of June saw especially high background check volumes, presumably related to the aftermath of the killing of Mr. George Floyd.”
Kim Stolfer, president of Firearms Owners Against Crime, said that spike in gun sales is directly linked to fear about defunding police departments in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“People now realize how important the Second Amendment is,” Stolfer said. “People want to be safe.”
Industry data shows that a substantial share of the people arming themselves are people who’ve never owned firearms before, Stolfer said.
Forty-percent of gun sales nationally have been to first-time gun-owners, according to surveys by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Connecticut. Previously, first-time buyers typically accounted for about 24 percent of gun sales, according to the foundation. Most first-time gun buyers are buying handguns, according to the NSSF.
Adam Garber, executive director of CeaseFire PA, a gun-control group based in Philadelphia, called the spike in gun sales “alarming.”
Garber said that research indicates that people who buy guns are more likely to use them to harm themselves and those around them than they are to use the weapons to protect themselves.
“This momentary decision will lead to a lot longer risk” that the weapon will be used in an act of domestic violence or suicide, he said.
Research published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine found that gun owners were more likely to commit suicide than if they had never purchased a firearm. That study compiled data on 26 million Americans over a 12-year period and found that men who purchased firearms were eight-times more likely to commit suicide than men who didn’t own guns. Women with guns were 35-times more like to commit suicide than women who didn’t own firearms.
Based on that research, the harm from the coronavirus pandemic “could last well after we have a vaccine” to cure the virus, Garber said.