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Presbyterian webinar series asks, ‘Why do people buy guns during a pandemic?’

‘Standing Our Holy Ground’ from Presbyterian Peacemaking Program will look for answers on Thursday

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — One of the surprising headlines, to some people, out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that in addition to toilet paper and hand sanitizer, people have been stocking up on guns.


In March, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted 3.7 million background checks for gun purchases, more than any other month on record, and a million more than March 2019, according to the USA Today. The New York Times said March was the second highest month for gun sales in the United States, trailing only January 2013, the month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and the month Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as President of the United States. Some sources put March sales at an all-time high.

Other record months were attributed to fears that a mass shooting and president who favored gun-control legislation would bring limits to gun sales. But what is it about a pandemic that spurs sales in firearms?

It’s a question the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program (PPP) will address at 3 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday in its webinar seriesStanding Our Holy Ground: A Year-Long Look at Gun Violence and What the Faith Community Can Do About It.”

“There was a sense of, ‘Why are people stockpiling guns?’ ‘What do guns have to do with COVID-19?’” Peacemaking Program Coordinator the Rev. Carl Horton said. “We thought, this is a topic that already has resonance with our work. How can we pull it into our ‘Standing Our Holy Ground’ series?”

Producer Simon Doong said initial queries with public health experts regarding gun sales and a pandemic revealed insufficient research on any correlation — the lack of pandemics on the scale of COVID-19 in the United States meant there really wasn’t a precedent for the phenomenon of increased gun sales.

“We sort of adapted and said, we’ll talk about why someone turns to firearms in a time of crisis, and what’s the difference between a fear-based and faith-based response to disaster,” Doong said.

The Thursday afternoon edition of the webinar, “Get Your Guns: Why Americans Buy Firearms in Times of Pandemic,” will feature the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and the Rev. Robert Hoggard, a pastor and doctoral student from Rochester, New York, who was also a panelist on a March edition of “Standing Our Holy Ground,” “The Racial Divide in Gun Violence.”

The Rev. Robert Hoggard

“Much of my experience is focused on all of the factors that lead a person to pick up a gun in the first place,” Hoggard wrote, answering email questions, and noting that is the perspective he brought to his previous appearance on the series.

Hoggard said that in his role as vice-president of Metro Justice, a grassroots organization working for  social, economic, and racial justice in Rochester, he has tackled issues such as police accountability, ending cash bail, and discovery and speedy trial laws that relate to the causes of gun violence.

“I hope viewers will leave with tools to help marginalized communities on this effort and learn about how other issues lead to gun violence,” he wrote.

Kraus allowed that “rising gun purchases during a pandemic” was not an area of expertise she ever thought she’d develop or can claim. But more than 26 years in disaster response, work and ministry has given her a lot of insight into how people respond to trauma.

“In almost every incidence of mass violence, there is a spike of some kind in gun purchases, action sought around concealed carry, and other activities indicating that, following an event, people tend to become reactive, and their sense of threat (their perception of threat) is heightened,” Kraus wrote. “So, in COVID, while it is not a mass violence event, it is a mass threat event that heightens people’s sense of anxiety and fearfulness.

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus

“In all living things, heightened threat, whether real or perceived, and chronic anxiety activate the sympathetic nervous system — the ‘fight or flight’ instinct. Gun purchases are a ‘fight’ response — and for people who are comforted by, or feel safer with, firearms, buying guns in the midst of a sense of anxiety and threat and fearfulness makes a strange and sad kind of sense. People want to feel safe, and they want to protect those they love, and pandemic threatens everything, in an undifferentiated way, for sure. But the fear response is not rational, it is reactive.”

Kraus hopes the webinar will give viewers the opportunity to look at that response and find other ways to address it.

“Are there ways in which we, as people of faith and community leaders, can work together in this time to reduce people’s anxiety and fearfulness?” Kraus wrote. “Can we name how that anxiety drives people, and think together about ways to defuse that fear and reactivity?”

Kraus’ participation makes “Get Your Guns” a collaboration between two of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries: Peacemaking and Disaster Assistance. Kraus said the ministries worked together on the Story Ministry production “Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence” and other projects that included CPJ ministries such as the Washington-based Office of Public Witness.

“We are continuing to collaborate with PPP and with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship to offer workshops, webinars and opportunities for faith communities to come together around gun violence, mass violence events,” Kraus wrote. In those collaborations, they aim to “think both proactively and responsively about the advocacy, healing role, and ministry of presence congregations, gathered with their neighbors, can offer to communities afflicted by violence or seeking to become more resilient and trauma-resistant,” according to Kraus.

Give to the Peace & Global Witness Offering to continue the valuable ministry of the Peacemaking Program.

Give to One Great Hour of Sharing to enable Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to respond quickly to catastrophic events.


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