Gun purchasing among Californians rose sharply during 2020, and the trend is likely related to the increase in gun violence currently happening across the Golden State.
Gun violence experts look at federal background checks to determine the rate of firearm purchasing, and evidence shows that purchasing increases during periods of unrest or crisis.
Prior to the pandemic, California was reporting about 100,000 checks in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System per month, according to statistics collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In March 2020, that number shot up to 164,000. Background check rates in California have remained high throughout the pandemic, racial reckoning protests and presidential election of the last year.
Now, those like Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, say the state is starting to experience the effects of that purchasing surge. He said the mass shooting in San Jose on Wednesday, which left nine dead and several injured, is part of an increase in gun violence in California this year. A purchasing surge can contribute to that, he said.
“There was an unprecedented surge in firearm purchases, and up through the middle of last year, the size of the increase in violence was proportional to the size of the increase in firearm purchasing,” Wintemute said in an email. “There was also social disruption on many fronts, on a scale we’ve not seen in many years. We are just beginning to experience the effects of those changes, and preliminary data suggest the increase in violence has continued in the first months of 2021.”
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