Public Concern About Violence, Firearms, and the COVID-19 Pandemic in California

JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Jan 4;4(1):e2033484. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.33484.


Importance: Violence is a significant public health problem that has become entwined with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Objective: To describe individuals' concerns regarding violence in the context of the pandemic, experiences of pandemic-related unfair treatment, prevalence of and reasons for firearm acquisition, and changes in firearm storage practices due to the pandemic.

Design, setting, and participants: This survey study used data from the 2020 California Safety and Well-being Survey, a probability-based internet survey of California adults conducted from July 14 to 27, 2020. Respondents came from the Ipsos KnowledgePanel, an online research panel with members selected using address-based sampling methods. Responses were weighted to be representative of the adult population of California.

Main outcomes and measures: Topics included worry about violence for oneself before and during the pandemic; concern about violence for someone else due to a pandemic-related loss; experiences of unfair treatment attributed to the pandemic; firearm and ammunition acquisition due to the pandemic; and changes in firearm storage practices due to the pandemic.

Results: Of 5018 invited panel members, 2870 completed the survey (completion rate, 57%). Among respondents (52.3% [95% CI, 49.5%-55.0%] women; mean [SD] age, 47.9 [16.9] years; 41.9% [95% CI, 39.3%-44.6%] White individuals), self-reported worry about violence for oneself was significantly higher during the pandemic for all violence types except mass shootings, ranging from a 2.8 percentage point increase for robbery (from 65.5% [95% CI, 62.8%-68.0%] to 68.2% [95% CI, 65.6%-70.7%]; P = .008) to a 5.6 percentage point increase for stray bullet shootings (from 44.5% [95% CI, 41.7%-47.3%] to 50.0% [47.3%-52.8%]; P < .001). The percentage of respondents concerned that someone they know might intentionally harm themselves was 13.1% (95% CI, 11.5%-15.3%). Of those, 7.5% (95% CI, 4.5%-12.2%) said it was because the other person had experienced a pandemic-related loss. An estimated 110 000 individuals (2.4% [95% CI, 1.1%-5.0%] of firearm owners in the state) acquired a firearm due to the pandemic, including 47 000 new owners (43.0% [95% CI, 14.8%-76.6%] of those who had acquired a firearm). Of owners who stored at least 1 firearm in the least secure way, 6.7% (95% CI, 2.7%-15.6%) said they had adopted this unsecure storage practice in response to the pandemic.

Conclusions and relevance: In this analysis of findings from the 2020 California Safety and Well-being Survey, the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with increases in self-reported worry about violence for oneself and others, increased firearm acquisition, and changes in firearm storage practices. Given the impulsive nature of many types of violence, short-term crisis interventions may be critical for reducing violence-related harm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • COVID-19*
  • California / epidemiology
  • Commerce
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Firearms / statistics & numerical data
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ownership
  • Police
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Safety
  • Social Discrimination / ethnology
  • Social Discrimination / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Violence / psychology*
  • White People