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Opinion: As gun sales spike, secure firearms and train

Jon Gold

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the country, there is fear, uncertainty and an instinct to do everything we can to protect our families.

For most, that means stocking up on groceries, staying inside and doing everything we can to prevent further spread of this relentless, deadly virus.

But thanks in large part to fear-mongering by some gun lobbyists, some Americans believe that they can’t protect themselves or their families without a firearm and are buying guns at record rates. In Michigan, gun sales jumped 108% between March 2019 and March 2020. 

Customers stand in line as they wait to get a federal background check, buy a firearm, ammo or equipment at Double Action Indoor Shooting Center and Gun Shop in Madison Heights, MI., Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Many gun shops are seeing a spike in business during the coronavirus pandemic.

The truth is, without proper training and storage, a gun is more likely to hurt you or someone you love than provide protection from an unknown threat. Detroit has become one of the hardest-hit cities during this pandemic, and the last thing health care professionals need are hospital beds being taken up by gun violence victims.

As gun sales spike during the coronavirus pandemic, first-time buyers need to be aware of the risks, Gold writes.

As a gun owner and instructor myself, I understand the desire to feel prepared to protect your family. But what many folks may not realize is that there are risks involved in having a gun in your home, risks like unintentional shootings, gun suicides and domestic violence shootings.

Unintentional shootings are more frequent with first-time gun buyers — like the tragedy in New Mexico where a man unintentionally shot and killed his 13-year-old cousin, and here in Michigan where a Battle Creek man “shot himself in the leg with a gun he purchased as protection” because of coronavirus.

There is also concern over a rise in suicides during this time of economic uncertainty and social isolation. Every year, 23,000 Americans die by firearm suicide, and having access to a gun triples the risk of such incidents. An unsecured gun can turn a moment of hopelessness into an irreversible tragedy.

There are serious risks for women and anyone quarantined with an abusive partner, too. Police stations and domestic violence hotlines have reported increased domestic violence calls, and women are five times more likely to be killed by an abusive partner when a gun is present.

Anyone considering buying a gun right now should think through these risks. If you still decide to purchase a firearm, there are critical steps to take to reduce these risks. 

As a firearms expert with 25 years of experience, I know that extensive training is one of these steps. I would never use a gun to defend my home until I’ve put at least 500 rounds through it. That’s the only way to really know how to use it safely and how the gun behaves.

Secure storage is also essential — responsible gun owners securely store firearms by keeping them locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition. Hiding a gun in a sock drawer won’t cut it. This is more important than ever if you have kids and teenagers home from school.

I’m not just a firearms expert — I'm also a survivor of gun violence. I was shot by accident in a motel parking lot years ago. I heard a clang and then my right bicep started bleeding. At the time, my bicep was four inches from my heart. Four inches of physics saved my life. 

I have also lost three people to firearm suicide in the last three years. For suicide attempts not involving a firearm, 4 percent result in death, but for gun suicide attempts, 90 percent will. In my world, 100 percent have resulted in death.

I know what it’s like to have loved ones — and my own sense of safety — taken by gun violence. That’s why I’ll never stop pleading with people to go through proper training, store firearms responsibly, and take the steps to ensure the power over life and death they hold in their hands will not fall into the wrong hands and cause irreversible tragedy. 

If you are struggling and need to talk, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always open: (800) 273-8255.

Jon Gold is a firearms expert and instructor, volunteer with the Michigan Chapter of Moms Demand Action and a member of the Everytown Survivor Network based in Detroit. Gold has been wounded by live fire and has lost three close friends to firearm suicide in three years.