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Pandemics, Protests, and Firearms

Bree Lang () and Matthew Lang

American Journal of Health Economics, 2021, vol. 7, issue 2, 131 - 163

Abstract: A record number of firearm background checks were completed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and during the protests following the murder of George Floyd. Using monthly state-level data, we show that the increase in firearm background check rates in March 2020 and June 2020 differ from previous gun-buying events in at least two important ways. First, the increases in the background check rates surrounding COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests are significantly larger than previous gun-buying events. Second, the gun-buying events of 2020 are nonpartisan; the effect in Republican-leaning states is statistically indistinguishable from the effect in Democrat-leaning states. Our estimates suggest that there were 62 percent more background checks completed between March and August 2020 than expected, which amounts to over 7 million additional background checks. We provide evidence that the recent spikes in background checks are not motivated by gun policy uncertainty and discuss policy recommendations that may alleviate any negative outcomes associated with expanded gun ownership during an unprecedented pandemic.

Date: 2021
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