Health Care Workers Help Drive Gun Surge, New Study Says

Gun buying also rises among minorities amid pandemic

Washington state gun-store owner Tiffany Teasdale / Getty Images
October 27, 2020

When the coronavirus hit American shores, nurses and doctors stocked up on guns, a new study reports.

Researchers at New Mexico State University and the University of Toledo found that being a health care provider was one of the strongest predictors of buying a firearm during the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. Sixty-seven percent of people who reported buying a gun during the pandemic also reported being health care professionals.

"One of the things we should see, in my limited view, is these are people who are civilians who are not criminals and they have seen a lot of unrest in the past six months," New Mexico State University professor Jagdish Khubchandani told the Washington Free Beacon. "And they want to be on the front foot with their own safety."

Khubchandani said this surprising finding becomes more understandable when considered alongside the study's other main finding: Gun-ownership demographics as a whole have shifted during the pandemic.

Gun buyers were more likely to be younger, more urban, more female, and less white. As the gun-owning demographic diversifies, then, it starts to look more like the demographics of health care, one of the country's largest industries.

"America now has more job opportunities in health care," Khubchandani said. "Almost 15 percent of Americans today have a job in health care. And as that demographic has changed, so has the gun-owning demographic, and they've intersected."

Khubchandani pointed to two recent surveys finding that between a quarter and half of physicians own guns. He also noted recent real-world examples of health care professionals lining up at gun shops to purchase guns.

"We were having doctors, nurses—you name it—coming in, and they wanted guns," Emily Atkinson, owner of Ade's Gun Shop in California, told Fox 11 Los Angeles this month. "First-timers of every age. You have teachers, you have real estate, you have every day housewives and you have kids that are in college—it's for everybody now."

The researchers designed the survey, a web-based, cross-sectional study based on responses from 1,432 adults, to include all sorts of different health care professionals from doctors to home health care assistants and physicians' assistants.

Khubchandani said that, while ownership among health care professionals appears to be accelerating, it may be better evidence for the demographic shift of gun ownership in general.

"I don't think they're behaving unusual," Khubchandani said. "They're just doing what the general population [of gun owners] is doing."

The reasons all study participants gave for buying guns are also notable. Most of them identified protection from crime and concerns about the societal effects of the pandemic, but 10 percent of buyers also mentioned fearing anti-black and anti-Asian racism.

"Our final analysis finds that race, gender, political ideas, ideology does not matter" in determining gun ownership, Khubchandani said. "What matters is, have you been threatened? Have you been exposed to violence? Do you know someone who was threatened, and therefore, by default, does that make you a little more protective about your own self and your family?"