Domestic Violence, Firearms, and Covid-19

Prof Joanna Bourke, SHaME’s Principal Investigator, highlights how a rise in domestic firearms sales in the US is exposing girls, women and other minoritised groups to increased domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 is exposing girls, women, and other minoritised groups to increased domestic violence. As has happened throughout the world, calls to domestic violence help-lines in the U.S. have soared in all states. The lethality of violence in America has intensified due to a sudden rise in purchases of domestic firearms, as a result of anxieties about societal unrest during the pandemic. According to the FBI, in March 2020, there were over one million more pre-sale background checks for firearms compared to March 2019: this amounts to a total of more than 3.7 million checks. Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting (SAAF), the independent research consultancy firm focusing on small arms and ammunition markets, noted that retailers sold more than 2.5 million firearms in March alone, an 85 per cent increase in a year. Long-gun sales also rose by 74 per cent. This will have a long-term impact, as Jurgen Brauer, the SAAF’s chief economic explains, because “it’s now possible that at least a proportion of first-time buyers will be converted into repeat buyers, so that there may be a higher base of firearms owners in the years to come”. In the short term, however, the risk posed by the proliferation of small arms is widely acknowledged. Research has found that abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if he owns a firearm, meaning that a surge in the proportion of homes containing unsecured firearms increases the likelihood of intimate partner homicides. As the authors of a recent article in the Annals of Surgery warned, the “stay-at-home ruling in many states does not recognize shooting ranges as essential businesses”. This means that first time gun owners might not be receiving adequate training in firearm use and storage, leading to more deadly domestic violence incidents. They warned that unsafe storage is also making firearms “easily accessible to bored and curious children that are currently stuck at home, which increases opportunities for tragic, unintentional shootings”.

This is a public health crisis with enormous potential for harm.



Heath Druzin, “Gun Sales Skyrocket in March on Pandemic Fears. Guns and America” (1 April 2020), at

Jacquelyn C. Campbell, Daniel Webster, Jane Koziol-McLain, Carolyn Block, Doris Campbell, Mary Ann Curry, Faye Gary, Nancy Glass, Judith McFarlane, Carolyn Sachs, Phyllis Sharps, Yvonne Ulrich, Susan A. Wilt, Jennifer Manganello, Xiao Xu, Janet Schollenberger, Victoria Frye, and Kathryn Laughon, “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results from a Multisite Case Control Study”, American Journal of Public Health, 93.7 (July 2003), 1092, at

Thomas K. Duncan, Jessica L. Weaver, Tanya L. Zakrison, Bellal Joseph, Brenda T. Campbell, A. Britton Christmas, Ronald M. Stewart, Deborah A. Kuhls, and Eileen M. Bulger, “Domestic Violence and Safe Storage of Firearms in the COVID-19 Era”, Annals of Surgery (2020), at

J. S. Hatchimonji, R. A. Swendiman, M. J. Seamon, M. L. Nance, “Trauma Does not Quarantine: Violence During the Covid-19 Pandemic”, Annals of Surgery (April 2020) at