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Culture of Fear Fosters Gun Sales, Feelings of Home Insecurity

“My wife and I already have three guns in the house, and even with the alarm system, I felt we needed the shotguns because of all of the social unrest,” Rockville resident Carl Edwards Jr. told The Informer. “I will not risk someone entering my home and potentially hurting my family without being met with maximum resistance.”

Edwards is among the millions of Americans whose anxieties over both the coronavirus pandemic and the social unrest following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, who have applied for gun permits or purchased firearms.

Americans bought more than 1.7 million firearms in May, according to estimates from industry analyst Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting. That is down from an estimated 1.8 million firearms in April, but an 80 percent year-over-year estimated increase. The FBI says it performed more than 3 million background checks in its NICS database in May, more than 700,000 more checks than it performed in May 2019.

Georgia State University Law Professor Timothy Lytton studies gun violence and told KUNC analysts for Guns & America that gun sales are likely increasing over fears of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a belief that in an emergency law enforcement will be unable to protect them.

“I think the current civil unrest is likely to stoke both of those fears even further and that we’re likely to see increased sales of firearms continuing on through the summer,” Lytton said.

That fear, discussed at length in a statement from American Psychological Association president, Sandra L. Shullman, described a “racism pandemic” that poses a threat to the mental stability of the nation.

“The deaths of innocent Black people targeted specifically because of their race — often by police officers — are both deeply shocking and shockingly routine. If you’re Black in America — and especially if you are a Black male – it’s not safe to go birding in Central Park, to meet friends at a Philadelphia Starbucks, to pick up trash in front of your own home in Colorado or to go shopping almost anywhere,” Shullman said. “We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens. The health consequences are dire. Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety, and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Moreover, the stress caused by racism can contribute to the development of cardiovascular and other physical diseases.”

Shullman said that studies show when police act in a procedurally just manner and treat people with dignity, respect, fairness and neutrality, people are more likely to comply with their directives and accept any outcome, favorable or unfavorable.

For southwest D.C. resident Julianne Agyepong, the anxiety created by COVID-19 and ongoing protests has redefined home security and what her family now considers a safe environment.

“My husband and I have three teens who are looking to us for direction, yet we really don’t know what to tell them as far as navigating that world around them right now. We tell them to be safe and be careful, to obey the law and not allow their emotions to dictate a situation, but even that is not a guarantee that they will make it back home to us safely if there is some renegade cop out there targeting Black youth,” Agyepong said. “What we can do is reassure them that when they are in this house, their parents are armed, they are safe, and their home is protected.”

Agyepong went on to say that while the focus tends to land on the anxiety of Black people, the real psychological issues in the nation belong to racist white Americans who have expressed their fears to her as feeling displaced in “their own country.”

“When you go to gun shops, gun shows, or to the firing range, you have these conversations with white people who are arming themselves against an imaginary boogeyman coming to disrupt their lives. They tend to be really chatty because they believe all gun owners are of the same ilk. That boogeyman – usually a Latino immigrant or Black thug – lives nowhere near them and could not be less interested in them,” Agyepong said. “When I see that level of fear, anger and mental confusion, I’m clear about why gun sales in the nation and home security devices have skyrocketed.”

Ironically, crime has significantly declined since the onset of the pandemic, while the sale of firearms has risen over the same period of time.

Retired minister and civil rights activist B. Napoleon Clark told The Informer that while homeowners are quarantined inside their homes it lessens the potential for home invasion. Still, anxiety increases if families are glued to television programming about death, destruction, and chaos.

“Let’s face it, the greatest home security in the world is no match for your mind – your peace of mind that allows you to rest comfortably at night no matter what goes on out in the streets,” Clark said. “I have an alarm on my home and security cameras – I even have a couple of pistols. Still, I suggest that while folks are arming and alarming their homes, they also fit their surroundings with the Word of God to protect and defend themselves spiritually and emotionally.”

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