Research suggests that race is a definite motivator for gun purchases, says Dr Benjamin Dowd-Arrow, a public health professor at Florida State University who studies firearms and mental health.
Gun sales skyrocketed in the United States in 2020.
Handgun sales increased by 66 per cent from 2019 to 2020. Moreover, guns like the AR-15 and other long rifles also saw large bumps in year-over-year increases (48.4 per cent.)
Two factors are linked to this surge in gun sales: the Covid-19 pandemic and the civil protests related to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, according to Dowd-Arrow.
In an interview with the Express on Saturday, he said the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the US uses messages that imply citizens will be victimised unless they are armed.
“The advertisements used to sell firearms more and more call on individuals to buy guns as a tool of protection. These ads and messages argue that individuals need guns to protect their families and themselves. Now, I cannot say how much influence these types of messages have outside of the US, but these are one of the main forms of messaging here, the other being evoking fear that liberals will take away your gun rights,” he said.
The Second Amendment of the US Constitution speaks to the right to bear arms. T&T does not have such rights.
Dowd-Arrow said the Covid-19 pandemic brought the US economy to a grinding halt with many small businesses forced to close their doors permanently, and many of the safety measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus resulted in the highest number of unemployed individuals in modern history.
“Many Americans are feeling the pressure of economic precariousness and uncertainty. Research has shown that when Americans, specifically white men, feel economic uncertainty, these Americans seek to restore stability in their lives through gun ownership,” he said.
Secondly, Dowd-Arrow said media portrayals of the BLM movement as being violent heighten fears of being victimised.
Political commentator Tucker Carlson has repeatedly stated that “BLM lunatics” are responsible for promoting violence. Carlson has claimed that BLM is transforming undeserving individuals, like George Floyd, from “criminals into martyrs” in order to destroy the social order.
“Since many of the media representations of BLM tend to focus on violent demonstrations (i.e. looting or rioting) rather than peaceful protest, Americans who are watching it unfold on their televisions may believe that these portrayals are accurate,” Dowd-Arrow said .
Moreover, these fears aren’t allayed when politicians deliberately stoke division and such types of portrayals increase fears of victimisation, which have been linked to gun ownership in the past, he said.
“This is because firearms may help their owners feel safer, more secure, and more protected in a world they perceive to potentially be dangerous,” he said.
The race factor
Dowd-Arrow pointed out research suggests that race is a definite motivator for gun purchases.
“If white Americans perceive demographic shifts in their neighbourhood, they are likely to buy guns. Crime in the US is highly racialised, so messages that warn individuals that they could become victims of crime are coded to imply the one committing the crime is a person of colour,” he said.
He cited several examples such as in the state of Florida when then House Speaker Richard Corcoran promoted ads showing a young woman being brutally murdered by an “illegal immigrant” during the 2018 midterm elections.
Dowd-Arrow said even the lawful rifle association (NRA) “implied immigrants are a threat to Americans and the messages are shown to be racial in nature”.
“Scott Melzers 2009 book highlights that the NRA wants to cater to white men and we kind of see that when we examine former NRA president Charlton Heston’s speech that conflated “American values of hard work and patriotism” with “white Christian men”.
Under the tenure of President Barack Obama, Dowd-Arrow pointed out the gun industry grew roughly 158 per cent.
“The total economic impact of the firearms and ammunition industry in the US increased from $19.1 billion in 2008 to $49.3 billion in 2015,” he said.
But, he added, there was a decrease when President Donald Trump took office which lasted until the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In the time of Covid, gun sales have significantly increased over last year. Many of these are first time buyers and buyers outside of the traditional categories (i.e., white middle-aged conservative men).
“Gun ranges have claimed to see increased traffic, and the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2020 election saw such demand for ammunition and firearms in the US, that there were shortages in many areas,” he said.
The demand led to businesses increasing their prices for firearms and ammunition, he added.
Having a firearm
Since the Covid-19 pandemic and rising protests have heightened feelings of instability among many Americans, it makes sense that some individuals would look for an external means of improving their mental well-being, Dowd-Arrow said.
“For instance, the National Rifle Association has claimed that individuals sleep better because armed citizens protect them. We have also seen the promotion of rhetoric suggesting that firearms are a casual factor in happiness, while numerous forums have suggested that individuals can have more satisfying lives through gun ownership,” he said .Additionally, he said, some gun owners have claimed that guns are empowering and contribute to a subjective sense of personal control over one’s life.
“There is a common belief among such individuals that owning guns will make them feel powerful and strong. Guns may be especially stimulating when they are fetishised by their owners or become elements of fantasy. The fetishising of firearms to create a hero fantasy is prevalent in the social media posts of groups, such as the NRA, which posits that only good guys with guns can stop the bad guys with guns,” he said.
However, despite the belief, there is little evidence to support the idea that firearms improve the personal well-being of their owners, Dowd-Arrow said.
“In fact, most evidence suggests that gun owners are no different from non-gun owners in terms of happiness, sleep quality, and life satisfaction. Similarly, firearms do not help a person sleep better at night – that is determined by the individual’s beliefs on the safety of their neighbourhood,” he said.
Adding that much of the messaging from gun manufacturers and gun lobbying groups evoke fear, Dowd-Arrow cited the NRA as using, “messages that imply you will be victimised unless you have a gun”.
“The advertisements used to sell firearms more and more call on individuals to buy guns as a tool of protection. These ads and messages argue that individuals need guns to protect their families and themselves. Now, I cannot say how much influence these types of messages have outside of the US, but these are one of the main forms of messaging here. The other being evoking fear that liberals will take away your gun rights,” he said.