What I am about to say may surprise some people, especially considering that I am the president and founder of the United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA). Despite the fact that I have been pleasantly surprised by the large swath of Americans who are working to improve their preparedness in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic — indeed, the last two months have seen record firearms sales — I want to emphasize that going out and purchasing a gun is not the sole requirement of actually being prepared. Rather, it's a small step at the beginning of a lifelong and life-changing journey for millions of Americans who want to keep their loved ones safe.
As the coronavirus pandemic has spread in recent weeks, many Americans have begun truly evaluating their own levels of personal security and preparedness for the first time and are also considering what they would do if they were ever forced to protect themselves or their families.
The result of such evaluations? Record firearms sales in virtually every state and municipality across the country. Gun sales in the states most affected by the virus thus far (California, New York and Washington come to mind) have been particularly high. Images of Americans — many of them first-time gun owners — lined up at gun stores and sporting-goods stores have become commonplace.The National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers (NASGW) reported a 168 percent spike in ammunition shipments for the week ending March 14. Figures from the FBI show 3.7 million background checks were done that same month—the most for a single month since the system began in 1998.
Perhaps not surprising in a world where seemingly everything is politicized, particularly when it comes to firearms, anti-gun groups and politicians have predicted that rising gun sales, coupled with schools being closed, will lead to more accidental shootings and deaths. Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, recently claimed, for example, that an “unintended consequence of these panic-induced purchases in response to COVID-19 could be a tragic increase of preventable gun deaths.”
Try again, Mr. Brown. The reality is that this type of fearmongering and effort by some to use the pandemic to further erode gun rights is not rooted in fact. Even as gun ownership has consistently risen year after year — with roughly 100 million gun owners in the U.S. today — preventable accidents have steadily decreased; there was a 44 percent decline from 1999 to 2018. A recent report from the National Safety Council, a reference resource for safety statistics, shows that preventable or accidental gun-related deaths totaled only 458 cases in 2018, which was the lowest figure since the organization began keeping record in 1903. This represented just 1 percent of all firearms fatalities in 2018, even as concealed carry permits have soared by more than 215 percent in recent years.
One key reason for this is that responsible gun owners take firearms safety very seriously. Many of these individuals have proven that they are willing to comply with the law by fulfilling all of the requirements associated with obtaining a concealed carry permit. In fact, a recent report by the Crime Prevention Research Center found that concealed carry permit holders are among the most law-abiding demographic of Americans today.
All of this aside, the bottom line is that all of us share the common goal of working to reduce future tragedies. Being a responsibly-armed American does not stop with your constitutional right to bear arms. In fact, making the decision to carry a firearm, or even to simply keep a gun for home defense, is where the real responsibility begins.
In addition to firearms safety, education and training must be top priorities for all gun owners, particularly for the thousands of Americans who have purchased a firearm for the first time in recent weeks. There’s no substitute for live-fire training, and many gun ranges have closed their doors during this pandemic, but gun owners still have the option to access countless online training materials and courses from knowledgeable instructors.
Safe firearms storage is also critical. Every new gun ships with a gun lock. A gun owner should use that lock or another secure storage device any time he or she is not either training at a range or carrying said sidearm. Many police and fire stations offer free gun locks — no questions asked. Again, when not in use, a firearm should be stored in a secured lockbox to which only the lawful owner or another authorized individual has access.
There will continue to be political and policy disagreements about gun ownership in the coming days — and beyond — and that’s OK. But right now, as millions of Americans continue to embrace their right to self-protection and others still are just starting to open their minds to the responsibly-armed lifestyle, we need to remember that education, training and safety must remain the uncompromisable tenets on which we all stand.