Compounding Crises: Gun Preparation Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
The threats of the COVID-19 pandemic do not end with viral infection. As public health researchers with a focus on gun violence, we are particularly concerned about increased risks of gun suicide, unintentional shootings and domestic violence shootings during these challenging times. Yet most government data on gun violence, another public health crisis, is available only annually — with a two-year time lag. We can’t wait that long. For our health systems to understand firearm suicide patterns, detect risks, and take steps to avert often preventable tragedies, we urgently need better data. In a public health field with a near-complete absence of officially collected real-time data, Google search data can provide extremely important signals and be a vital alternative source of information.
Americans searched online for how to buy and clean guns approximately 2.1 million times as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, an unprecedented spike in gun preparation searches that far exceeded the spikes seen after major mass shootings.
This is the key finding from our analysis of Google search data, which we describe in more detail here. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia saw increases in search activity, we found, and the overall spike was some 40 percent higher than the spikes after the mass shootings at both Sandy Hook School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. While Everytown has previously used Google data to track gun interest, we’ve never seen numbers this high.