More weapons in U.S. homes since pandemic

Most school shooters get guns from home

Four days before a 15-year-old sophomore allegedly killed four students and wounded others at a high school shooting in Michigan, his father purchased the firearm used in the attack.

That the teenager used a weapon from home during the Nov. 30 attack is not unusual. Most school shooters obtain the firearm from home. And the number of guns within reach of high school-age teenagers has increased during the pandemic — highlighting the importance of locking firearms and keeping them unloaded in the home.

Since the onset of the public health crisis, firearm sales have spiked. Many of these firearms have ended up in households with teenage children, increasing the risk of accidental or intentional injury or fatalities, or death by suicide.

As experts on firearm violence and firearm injury prevention, we know that active shooter events within school settings in the U.S. have increased substantially in the years running up to the pandemic. Meanwhile, our research indicates that in the early months of the public health crisis, more families with teenage children purchased firearms – increasing the potential risk that a teen could gain unsupervised access to a firearm.

Around the house

While school shootings represent a small fraction of the total number of firearm injuries and deaths that occur each year, as seen in the shooting at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, Mich., they can devastate a community.

Around half of school shootings are carried out by current or past students.

In around 74 percent of incidents, the firearm used was obtained from the student’s home or from that of a friend or relative.

While firearm purchases have been increasing for decades, they have accelerated during the pandemic. In the three months from March through May 2021, an estimated 2.1 million firearms were purchased – a 64.3 percent increase in the expected volume.

To understand how this affected firearm access among high school-age teens, investigators from the University of Michigan Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention conducted a national survey of nearly 3,000 parents and their teenage children.

We found that 10 percent of households with teens reported purchasing additional firearms between March-July 2020. Around 3 percent were first-time buyers. This means that more teenagers were being exposed to firearms around the home, and also that the number of firearms in households with teenage children increased. In all, it is estimated that one-third of all households with children up to age 18 contain at least one firearm.

While many firearm owners look after their guns responsibly by maintaining them locked, unloaded, and inaccessible to teens, access to unsecured firearms remains the single biggest contributor to teen firearm injury and death. Our survey indicated that in the midst of the increased firearm purchasing during COVID, more firearms were being kept unsecured within homes with teenagers.

Some 5 percent of firearm-owning parents reported making changes to their firearm storage methods since the beginning of the pandemic to make them more accessible. Firearm-owning parents we spoke to reported leaving them in unlocked cabinets or within easier reach — say, in a bedside cabinet — and with the firearm loaded.

Households that already kept firearms unlocked and loaded were also those that were more likely to purchase firearms during the pandemic, we found. Parents said they were largely motivated to make firearms easier to access by fear and a need for greater protection.

Yet this also means that others may have easy access to the firearms. During the pandemic, many people, especially youths, have experienced stress and isolation — which increases the potential risk of violence against others or oneself. This further emphasizes the importance of securing firearms in a locked safe and storing ammunition separately in the home to prevent unsupervised access during a moment of crisis.

The investigation into the shooting at Oxford high School has only just begun, and it would be premature to speculate on any motive or on how the shooter obtained access to the firearm recently purchased by his father.

However, one clear action that parents can take to help reduce the likelihood of future tragic school shootings and to keep their teens safe is to ensure any firearms present in the home are secured safely, locked up and unloaded, and out of the reach of teens.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


  1. Charles Foster

    Sad how our society and parenting has changed. Our social structure, atmosphere and adult guidance of children has become so incompetent that we can no longer trust our teenagers to do the right thing. What an indictment this is for our adult population and insult for the millions of “good”, responsible teens!

    I have no idea how to create a magical “quick-fix” for what we, as adults, have created. I just remember, as a seventh grade student, carrying my own firearm, with ammunition, on the bus to school. Keeping it in my locker all day and riding home with a friend, on his bus, to go shooting together.

    We had both teens and adults who were mentally ill back then as well. What has changed? How do we correct it today? How do we know if even our own teen is without a mental challenge? So many questions. So few answers.


  2. Phil Edmunds - 1964 (MS-Rackham)

    Dr. Carter’s strategy for reducing misuse of firearms by teens — for suicide or harming others — is for parents to keep guns unloaded, under lock and key. That makes no sense if a gun is acquired for personal protection.

    Dr. Carter doesn’t disclose what percentage of the parents who purchased firearms during the March-July 2020 period did so for personal protection rather than target shooting or hunting. That’s a telling omission. It suggests he knows but is unwilling to admit that the dramatic increase in firearm sales “since the onset of the public health crisis” is a consequence of widespread anxiety about rampant violent crime, most of it in municipalities with government controlled by Democrats. It has nothing to do with COVID-19. Gun buyers are also anxious about potential actions of Democrat politicians to make private ownership and use of firearms more difficult and expensive.
    Firearm sales increased dramatically during the Obama administration for that reason.


  3. Mike Lazarus

    You are correct. This article is written to make a correlation to covid when in fact covid is not the culprit. Poor leadership and fear mongering is the real drive.

    More weapons in U.S. homes since “pandemic“


    More weapons in U.S. homes since “Y2K”


    More weapons in U.S. homes since “Bill Clinton was impeached”


    More weapons in U.S. homes since “Al Gore invented the internet”


  4. Courtney Crim - 1973 BS-LSA; 1977 Medicine

    Like the old adage of 3 people standing on separate corners of an intersection and witnessing an accident – one gets 3 different descriptions of what actually occurred. it appears that Mr. Edmunds is so caught up in his political bent the he missed the point of Dr. Carter’s article; the issue Dr. Carter raised is less on the reasons our populace purchases firearms, rather that they are often left unsecured to the extent that individuals in the household who shouldn’t have access to these, find these weapons readily available. Despite the rants from some on the far right, this issue is not a Republican vs Democrat. No Democratic president has ever stated law-abiding citizens do not have the right to bear arms.
    To be clear, i am a gun owner and am permitted to carry a concealed weapon (CCW). However, during my CCW course which was through the county sheriff’s department, our class was advised not to keep a loaded weapon under the pillow or in a bedside desk drawer. The point being made was that waking up from a sound sleep and grabbing your weapon has on occasion resulted in people either inadvertently shooting themselves or a family member. Usually, if one hears a break-in, one has ample time to retrieve your firearm. This, I can state from personal experience.
    Mr. Lazarus may have also missed (or misunderstood) Dr. Carter’s statement, “While firearm purchases have been increasing for decades, they have accelerated during the pandemic.” This statement indicates an upward trajectory with firearm purchases before the pandemic at which time there was an inflection point with “a 64.3 percent increase in the expected volume.”
    Finally, I agree with Mr. Foster’s comments, although I believe that if a teen commits a crime with a firearm that was not secured in the home, the gunowner parent should be held legally responsible as well; otherwise, that portion of the carnage will continue (i.e. I agree this would have no impact on criminals with weapons or people shooting family members and loved ones in a fit of rage). I have no reason to question whether Mr. Foster was responsible handling a weapon as a seventh grader. However, I personally do not think it wise for any student to bring a firearm to school. If friends know you have such a weapon, they may apply pressure to “just let me see it,” with dreadful consequences ensuing.


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