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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lloyd

Who Buys Guns and Why

By Dr. Lloyd Sederer, with great thanks to Dr. Mark Leeds

Guns, Rifles, adn Ammo sign

New gun owners are contributing to an American firearm epidemic.

In 2021, after 25 years, Congress began funding the CDC and other researchers to study who buys guns in the US and why.

It was a year earlier, in 2020, as the Covid pandemic exploded, 22 million guns were sold by legal gun store operators with a federal firearms license, a 64 percent increase from the previous year.

First time gun buyers were almost 1/3 (eight million) of those buyers. Firearm homicides rose by 5,000 that year and the firearm death count rose from 45,222 to 48,830. Gun deaths will continue to rise as gun ownership goes up.

Are they selling firearms near me?

It seems like there is a gun show every week, where members of any law enforcement agency, or any random person off the street for that matter, can purchase a gun from a federal firearms licensee (FFL). The gun enthusiast can also apply for their concealed carry permit or obtain gunsmithing services.

Whether the gun is purchased in a pawn shop, a private sale, or at a gun show from an FFL dealer, the dangers are just as great. Gun laws are lax: Federal law allows firearm purchases with little oversight. A licensed firearms dealer can meet buyers for private gun sales, or a person can simply meet gun dealers in their shop to buy anything from a pistol to a machine gun. The unabated freedom to purchase deadly weapons has made sales and deaths accelerate to new highs.

COVID boosted gun sales significantly to people who feared the deadly coronavirus.

Researchers at the CDC and in academic settings report that self-defense was the greatest reason for purchasing guns, but not so for those not planning to buy a gun. Firearm buyers were especially fearful of Covid: did they think that a bullet would protect them from the coronavirus?

In the United States, certain radio, TV, and online channels would have you believe our country is teetering on the verge of anarchy. If you buy into those hyperbolic claims, you can start believing that you might need years of food stores, a firearm, and plenty of ammunition.

Research also shows that first time buyers of lethal weapons were also more distrusting (than non-buyers) of other people as well as fearful of uncertainty.

If your paranoia has media and internet fuel poured onto it, you might find yourself going online to shop for a handgun or a rifle. The online gun shop likely will have an abundant variety of firearms, while making a late-night gun sale easy. Every “impulse” purchase leads to one more gun owner, or to building the arsenal of an existing owner.

How can we understand the ideas and behaviors propelling the increasing, legal sale of guns?

Soothing the gun owner, but not increasing safety.

There is some evidence that having a gun soothes the owner, makes them “more at ease.” Children soothe themselves with a stuffed animal and pacifier. With age and uncertainty, millions of children who have grown into adulthood seem to have replaced a soft stuffy with a hard, metal gun.

Gun buyers are not increasing their safety: their risk of homicide and suicide increases. It never ceases to amaze me how we humans, well some of us, are driven more by baloney than by reality.

Firearms are our enemy, not our friend.

Behavior serves a purpose.” When the purpose is meant to protect ourselves or our family by buying a gun, we have misinformation creating today’s boom in firearm sales. Firearms are an enemy to safety, not a means of achieving safety. That’s how false claims and promotions to buy guns have become a deadly enemy, increasing the danger to the purchaser.

Our country has not proven itself capable of making deadly firearms (not only assault rifles) less accessible. Public health teaches us that when something is more accessible, the more often it will be used (see also Sederer, LI: Goplerud, E: Pay for Health Reform with an Alcohol Tax. September 28, 2009, Washington Post).

Reducing gun deaths.

Are there ways to curtail gun purchasing and ownership? To make guns our enemy, not a false friend? The internet and YouTube have a large ‘library’ of ways to make someone or something an enemy. War makes enemies of the opposition. Misinformation, false facts, and hysterical media claims make for imagined enemies and fire up gun sales and gun deaths.

Grab that old stuffy or listen to credible information. Talk with those who have stopped buying and made gun safety at home a priority. There are ways to calm the irrational fears driving the growing purchase of guns: And save some of the lives of the 48,000+ firearm deaths annually in the USA.

The media can help, as it has responsibly done with deaths by suicide and mass murders. By not distributing information that will increase the deaths of their viewers and listeners. By not being chattel to the gun industry but responsible to the public, that’s you and me.

The best thing that you can do to prevent more deaths by firearms is to decide not to buy a gun. If you already own a gun, consider giving it up, for the safety of you and your loved ones.


Book cover for Caught in the Crosshairs of American Healthcare by Lloyd Sederer

Dr. Sederer gives us a wise, penetrating look at the collision of traditional medicine with the “corporatization of healthcare,” now devouring the USA.

Our medical care surely needed fixing but the for-profit, corporate driven cure is making matters worse, in ways we all feel as patients, families, and clinicians. His is a cautionary tale using a Harvard teaching hospital as a case study of that devastating collision and how to survive it without losing your integrity and soul.

Don’t miss reading“Crosshairs.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD MS, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies

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