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

Educational Objective
To identify the key insights or developments described in this article
1 Credit CME
Key Points

Questions  Is the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic associated with changes in individuals’ worry about violence happening to themselves or others, the prevalence of and reasons for firearm and ammunition acquisition, and changes in firearm storage practices?

Findings  In this survey study of 2870 adults in California, worry about multiple types of violence for oneself increased during the pandemic. Individuals expressed concern that someone else might physically harm themselves because of pandemic-related losses; there was an increase in firearm acquisition and in unsecure storage practice of loaded firearms in response to the pandemic.

Meaning  The findings of this study suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to lessen its spread have compounded the public health burden of violence.


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.

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CME Disclosure Statement: Unless noted, all individuals in control of content reported no relevant financial relationships. If applicable, all relevant financial relationships have been mitigated.

Article Information

Accepted for Publication: November 23, 2020.

Published: January 4, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.33484

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2021 Kravitz-Wirtz N et al. JAMA Network Open.

Corresponding Author: Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, PhD, MPH, University of California Firearm Violence Research Center and Violence Prevention Research Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California Davis School of Medicine, 2315 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95817 (nkravitzwirtz@ucdavis.edu).

Author Contributions: Dr Kravitz-Wirtz had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: Kravitz-Wirtz, Aubel, Pallin, Wintemute.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.

Drafting of the manuscript: Kravitz-Wirtz, Aubel.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.

Statistical analysis: Kravitz-Wirtz, Aubel, Schleimer.

Obtained funding: Wintemute.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Aubel, Pallin, Wintemute.

Supervision: Kravitz-Wirtz, Wintemute.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Funding/Support: This research was supported by the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, the California Wellness Foundation (award No. 2017-0447), and the Heising-Simons Foundation (award No. 2019-1728).

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

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