The Case For Not Panic Buying A Gun

A man walks with a stroller as people stand in line outside the Martin B. Retting, Inc. guns store on March 15, 2020 in Culver City, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As coronavirus continues to upend our lives, there are some people who are rushing to buy toilet paper (unnecessarily) and rice. Others are trying to get a hold of essential medicines. And some are running to buy guns.

At the root of every one of those reactions is the question: What do I need to be OK?

For those buying weapons, the answer seems to be making sure you're armed.

Why might you need a gun?

Last year we examined that question in the context of prepping for a San Andreas earthquake for our podcast The Big One: Your Survival Guide.

You should listen — especially to Episode 7 — if you're invested in this prepping debate.

I wanted to know why so many people [men, really] I talked to about getting ready for a big earthquake asked me if they needed a gun.

At the time, my friend Brian argued that if it came down to it, he wanted to be able to defend himself. That if he didn't have a gun, he was really just prepping for his someone else, who could just come and take all his carefully curated supplies.


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At the core of that argument is the belief that society is going to fail. Law enforcement is going to be ineffective. That your neighbors are going to turn against you. And that it's you and only you that can save yourself and that you need a weapon to do it.

"It doesn't make sense. We're not going to fall apart," said Robyn Gershon, Clinical Professor at NYU school of public health, when I checked in with her this week. When we spoke with her last year she thought Brian's reaction was too extreme, given the event.

This time around she feels the same about people who are rushing to buy guns.

I don't think we're on a path towards society failing, either. You might disagree.

Supply chains are going to catch up as people stop panic buying. At some point life here will resume. Even if it's much different than it was before.

HOW WOULD YOU USE THE GUN?

"If there's a 5, or 10%, or 15% chance that we're in a situation where a gun would come in handy, I don't see a reason why not to have a gun," Brian told me in the podcast.

It's an understandable argument and in the show we went back and forth about it.

Playing out what sort of interaction would lead him to use his weapon.

I'd ask others to do the same:

Say someone's stressed (as we all are), acting a little strange, and they come up to you asking for help. You say no. They get aggressive and you two argue. Do you pull your gun?

Or, since many of us are self quarantining, how about if someone just comes onto your property asking for help? What do you do?

Most people aren't trained to use weapons, period, much less in high stress situations. Ultimately that can have disastrous consequences. And even those who are trained can fail.

If you've got a gun in the home you're more likely to do something unjustifiably bad with it than to use it properly in self defense, according to Harvard's School of Public Health.

PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY GENERALLY GOOD

And even if things do get tougher, as they very well could, people often forget that those around them are generally pretty good.

That people don't react to disasters like in the movies.

"We tend to come together as humans and work together and help each other and try to work towards the collective good," said Joseph Trainor, sociologist at the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, during an interview for the podcast last year.

A good example can be found in a paper Trainor co-wrote about people's responses following Hurricane Katrina, about guests stuck in a hotel as things went from bad to worse:

"While they heard many of the rumors about widespread antisocial behavior all around them, in most hotels the guests helped one another and later reported feeling very positive about the hotel staff."

Your mind might be going to what happened after Hurricane Katrine, which has been held up again and again, as a moment when civilized society collapsed under the weight of the stress from a natural disaster and government ineptitude. Over time, many of the stories of unchecked violence there were debunked — often, myths rooted in racism.

"The various social systems and the people in them rose to the demanding challenges of a catastrophe," Trainor and his co-authors concluded. "Equally as important, the behaviors that did appear were overwhelmingly prosocial, making the antisocial behavior seem relatively minor in terms of frequency and significance."

Another example that I think is very telling: In the ShakeOut Report from the U.S. Geological Survey — which lays out the impact of a major San Andreas quake — the authors write that the vast majority of people in fallen buildings will likely be rescued by fellow victims. The experts who researched the report actually advocate for training the public on how to respond to situations like that because people will want to help each other.

Emergency services will be overwhelmed in a major quake scenario. Our neighbors will be all we've got.

We need to rely on each other to get through massive crisis like the one we're going through now.

While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, the vast majority of people want to be good, even during hard times.

I'm optimistic about our desire to keep our society functioning and to help each other out.

Even Brian — whom I messaged while writing this piece — told me that he's against people panic buying guns in response to the global pandemic. He thinks that law enforcement will still be effective, that infrastructure will hold up, and that in the end, we'll all be OK. He and I still vehemently disagree about buying guns to prep for earthquakes.

Just as concerning as what could happen outside the home, however, is what could potentially happen inside.

"Buying guns is a bad idea," said L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, during a press conference on March 16.

"Particularly now that you have a lot of people home. Normally they're not. Cabin fever sets in. You've got a crowded environment of people at home. Weapons are not a good mix."

ANXIETY, DEPRESSION — EVEN SUICIDE

We've got to think about the downstream mental health effects of this pandemic, and why it might be best not to have firearms around.

Anxiety, depression, existential dread and suicidal thoughts aren't going to be uncommon as things get worse.

In this context, there are two particularly worrying aspects when it comes to the fallout from COVID-19 and mental health: the death of loved ones, and the long term economic implications.

I want to warn you that this next sentence is alarming and is not meant to scare you, but to put things into context.

A recent dire estimate that spurred White House response found as many as 2.2 million people could die from the virus if — and this is an important caveat — government and individuals fail to act.

"It's normal for someone to grieve when they lose someone close to them," said Ronald Kessler, Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. "There's probably going to be some depression, particularly with people whose loved ones do die."

As older people are more vulnerable, it could very well be our parents or grandparents who we lose.

Many of us have dealt with grief over the loss of someone we loved. It can be heart wrenching and all but crippling. That grief can turn into depression. And depression has been linked to a higher risk of suicide.

But let's be clear, getting help, helps.


If You Need Help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and need immediate help, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go here for online chat.
For more help:

Another crisis that we're all likely going to be dealing with is a global recession.

"The crisis of the pandemic generally is going to create a lot of anxiety and stress with people. And then on top of that, the economic effects, which will unfortunately be coming down the road, will only exacerbate that. And I think that does pose a mental health risk for a large number of people," said Aaron Reeves, sociologist at the University of Oxford, who examined suicide rates following the Great Recession.

Though they were already increasing, the authors estimate that 4,750 additional deaths by suicide occurred in the three years following the downturn, as unemployment increased and the economy slowly recovered.

Marcie Roth, CEO of the World Institute on Disability experienced the fallout firsthand, when her father killed himself with a gun after he lost his money as the stock market tanked.

"He was the last person in the world that you would ever have thought would do something like that," she said.

"It ... said a whole lot to me about what people value and how tied some people are to money. And that, in a very difficult money time, that some people would actually think that their lives are no longer worth living because they lost all of their money."

"If he didn't have a gun, would he have found a different way to do it? I don't know. But, surely having a gun made that a whole lot easier," she said.

As the economy continues to dive towards a potential recession, and jobs are lost, the echoes of 2008 can be heard.

"The financial thing has the potential to have a long term devastating effect," said Kessler.

"There's a lot of people who give up hope and say it's impossible. When the price of corn goes down, you see a lot of suicides in farm states. And when the auto industry gets into trouble, the suicide rate in states like Ohio, Michigan go up. That's why financial things are big."

REDUCING THE RISK

"Gun owners and their families are much more likely to kill themselves than are non-gun-owners," according to a special report by the Harvard School of Public Health, which also goes into the complicated reasons the two things are connected.

A key approach recommended by the CDC to reducing the risk of suicide is by decreasing the number of lethal means in the home.

Guns certainly qualify as lethal means.

I know that some of you reading this vehemently disagree with me. I know there are plenty of responsible gun owners. To be clear, I'm not anti-hunting, anti-sport shooting or even anti-all guns. I just feel that there are serious considerations that need to be made about powerful weapons, especially during times of extreme stress, like what we're going through right now. Like what will continue.

Please, whether or not you have a firearm, if you are feeling at all depressed or suicidal, don't hesitate to reach out for help. These are really hard times.


If You Need Help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and need immediate help, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go here for online chat.

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