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Amid coronavirus panic, a new and unexpected debate has arisen: Are gun stores essential businesses?

When stay-at-home orders became widespread in March, gun dealers closed their businesses to comply with local laws. However, many reopened after the federal government advised states to designate them “essential businesses.” Some state and local governments have pushed back. In New Orleans, for example, the mayor issued an emergency proclamation giving the city authority to restrict firearm sales.

In total, 30 states have allowed gun retailers to stay open, due to the federal government’s guidance and legal action from pro-gun groups. Gun advocates have sued states that have not moved to make gun stores essential, arguing that this is a violation of the Second Amendment.

In the midst of this debate, gun sales have boomed. Background checks, a key indicator of gun sales, have ballooned in recent weeks. According to US News, the backlog for the federal background check system is over 80,000. A process that once took minutes now drags on indefinitely. Worryingly, federal law permits gun dealers to proceed with a sale if the check takes more than three days, as long as they don’t operate in a state with stricter waiting periods.

Analysis

For those that favor stricter gun control, this debate may seem confusing and myopic given the scope of the crisis. Why worry about the Second Amendment when unemployment is skyrocketing and grocery stores are experiencing widespread shortages?

But according to an opinion piece in the right-leaning National Review, public fears — and a resulting demand for guns — have been stoked by precisely these factors. Additionally, police departments are rejecting certain calls and making fewer arrests. Meanwhile, some prisons have released inmates as crowded, subpar living conditions spur outbreaks.

The article fails to mention that requests for release are evaluated based on the inmate’s conviction, age,  how long they’ve served, and other potential risk factors. Moreover, many released prisoners are placed under house arrest rather than freed outright. Even if these former inmates decided to commit another crime, police are still responding to serious and violent offenses. They’re limiting action on issues like fender benders and minor probation violations. Theoretically, the situation for law enforcement could get worse, but selling guns when it’s near impossible to get a proper background check or safety training will not make us safer.

That said, while there’s certainly a self-serving economic motive for pro-gun groups, the motivations of pro-gun individuals are completely understandable. Like all Americans, they’re afraid that the government will not be able to meet our basic needs during this crisis. They recognize that our economy, our food system, and our law enforcement system are on tenuous footing. Stockpiling guns, among other supplies, allows them to feel safer in a deeply uncertain time.

However, the skyrocketing demand for firearms also points to an insidious individualism that is no longer serving our society. This individualism has also inspired Americans to shirk social distancing measures and ignore CDC guidelines. This mindset goes all the way to the head of our government, where President Trump is pressuring state and local officials to reopen the economy at the risk of public safety, Collectivist societies like Vietnam and South Korea have been more successful at social distancing and slowing the spread, while our government struggles to implement widespread testing or even convince us to wear masks.

In a profound and disturbing way, America has become the epicenter of coronavirus because we feel more inclined to point guns at each other than help each other.

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