Thursday, June 15, 2023

During pandemic guns and ammo flew off shelves 'as much a run on guns as on toilet paper'

In November 2019, just as a novel virus began circulating in Wuhan, China, the United States entered year four of the so-called “Trump Slump,” a sustained decline in domestic firearm sales that began after the 2016 election, precipitating several bankruptcies and much hand-wringing among industry executives, according to The New Republic. The slump wouldn’t last much longer. Amid Covid lockdowns, a looming recession, and an ambient feeling of social collapse, demand for guns skyrocketed. In late March, when the Trump administration announced that it would allow gun stores to remain open as “essential” businesses, guns and ammo flew off shelves, resulting in, as one Los Angeles legislator told The New York Times, “as much a run on guns as on toilet paper.”

Over the course of 2020, more firearms were sold than during any year on record, and the surge continued well into 2022, bucking the usual boom-and-bust cycle that the industry has seen for decades. By year three of the pandemic, nearly one in five U.S. households had purchased a firearm, according to one measure. Many did so for the first time. Gun lovers, ran a Vice headline, were claiming “a huge ‘I told you so’ moment.” 

The Covid buying spree arrived at the tail end of a half-century development in American politics: the steady movement of guns to the red-hot core of the political right. By the end of Obama’s second presidential term, gun possession was a more reliable voting indicator than race, class, gender, and age, and support for gun rights better predicted party affiliation than views on any other single issue. Gun advertisers, stoking the political fires, found themselves “addicted to conspiracy-theory-fueled political partisanship,” as one former gun exec put it in a 2022 Atlantic essay. Over the past decade, and with predictably deadly results, lethal weapons became an unnerving and ubiquitous sight at political protests around the country, as right-wing fantasies of political violence and celebrations of armed vigilantism reached new heights.

Studies of American gun culture have often focused on the top-down influence of large organizations, such as gun manufacturers or the National Rifle Association. But these accounts only tell one part of the story. Sociologist Jennifer Carlson argues that we would learn just as much by examining how gun enthusiasts have constructed a political style from the ground up. During the febrile spring and summer of 2020, Carlson conducted remote interviews with 50 gun sellers in two red states (Arizona and Florida) and two blue ones (California and Michigan). She wanted to know how these dealers experienced the dramatic uptick in firearm sales and consequent expansion of their normal clientele against the backdrop of the pandemic, the summer’s racial justice uprisings, and the presidential election.

The book-length product of these interviews, Merchants of the Right, treats gun sellers as “merchants not just of guns but also of gun culture.” The stores they preside over serve as spaces like “nineteenth-century coffeehouses and salons,” where political conversation and conversion abound (perhaps over a cup of Black Rifle joe). In a year of Black Lives Matter, Covid, and the 2020 election, gun sellers furthered a culture of armored individualism, unhinged conspiracism, and extreme partisanship. The gun-buying surge of 2020, in Carlson’s sobering portrait, is both a culmination of these tendencies and harbinger of a perilous, illiberal future. 

To read more CLICK HERE


No comments:

Post a Comment