The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically increased circumstances that can lead to gun violence. Because Maine does not have a requirement that guns be safely stored, it is imperative that responsible gun owners are aware of the heightened realities of gun ownership.

First, there has been a significant increase in gun sales since the COVID-19 crisis began. The number of completed background checks for gun sales in Maine, as reported by the FBI, nearly doubled – from 7,966 to 14,627 – between February and March. This increase does not include guns acquired through gun sales by unlicensed sellers or guns made by 3-D printers. Gov. Mills has deemed gun shops essential businesses, so the increase in sales is likely to continue.

Second, domestic violence is more likely in households stressed by job loss and confinement. The Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel reported in 2018 that 16 domestic-violence homicides accounted for 43 percent of all homicides in the state in 2016 and 2017. Firearms were the most common means of domestic-violence homicide, according to the 2018 report. Precautions such as safe storage or gun locks, which prevent immediate access to a gun, might provide the added time necessary for calmer heads to prevail.

Third, mental health is affected by the anxiety, social isolation and lack of supporting structures caused by the pandemic, and firearm suicide is already a public health issue in Maine. Between 2008 and 2017, 1,173 firearm suicides accounted for 87 percent of all gun deaths in Maine, according to a Center for American Progress analysis of federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Suicide is frequently an impulsive act, and safe storage or rendering guns inaccessible can save lives. The minutes it would take to access a stored firearm count.

Finally, curious children, young adults and others with unstructured or unsupervised time at home may access guns if they are not stored safely.

Responsible gun owners must ensure that all guns are stored safely so that they or their firing mechanisms are inaccessible to those who are not authorized to use them. It is well documented that safe storage practices reduce both suicide and accidental shootings. A February 2018 survey by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 54 percent of gun owners do not keep guns locked in a safe, locked into a gun rack or stored with a trigger lock.

Safe storage means more than simply hiding a gun or storing ammunition separately from the weapon. It means placing firearms in a dedicated storage locker or locking the firing mechanism. Gun locks can be purchased in most gun shops. The Maine Gun Safety Coalition, on whose board of directors we both serve, provides trigger locks free to individuals, to law enforcement agencies and to physicians’ offices. Just ask for as many free locks as you may need by contacting us on our website: mainegunsafety.org.

For additional information about the need for safe gun storage at home, please watch a recent online panel discussion of experts, hosted by the coalition, that discusses the concerns outlined. This discussion is also available on our website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created for us no ordinary time. We are pulling together to do the best we can to save lives. As Maine Gun Safety Coalition board members, we urge you to apply these same principles to gun storage. While precautions must always be taken with guns, the increase in the number of guns recently purchased in Maine and this period of heightened anxiety warrant a reminder that safe storage of guns also saves lives.


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