Coronavirus Fears Have Produced A Lot Of New Gun Owners — And Safety Concerns Many gun dealers say they are seeing a number of first-time buyers. Long-time gun owners from across the U.S. are helping the newcomers learn to handle firearms safely in a time of social distancing.
NPR logo Coronavirus Fears Have Produced A Lot Of New Gun Owners — And Safety Concerns

Coronavirus Fears Have Produced A Lot Of New Gun Owners — And Safety Concerns

Chuck Rossi, the co-founder of Open Source Defense, at his home in California. He uses video conferences to connect with new gun owners. Leigh Paterson/Guns and America hide caption

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Leigh Paterson/Guns and America

Chuck Rossi, the co-founder of Open Source Defense, at his home in California. He uses video conferences to connect with new gun owners.

Leigh Paterson/Guns and America

As Americans flock to gun stores in the face of coronavirus fears, many gun dealers report an influx of new customers, taking home a deadly weapon for the first time. In response, long-time gun owners from across the U.S. are stepping up to help these newcomers get some safety training in the age of social distancing.

"I want to be a good ambassador for the Second Amendment and for firearms owners," says Chuck Rossi, co-founder of an online gun rights organization called Open Source Defense.

A few weeks ago, Open Source Defense launched a type of informal, online training called Office Hours, using a shared calendar that allows users to sign up for a 30-minute video conference with a long-time gun owner.

"We have our introductory, 'How're you doing? How're you holding up? Where are you in the process? What are your questions?'" Rossi explains.

Few states require gun buyers to undergo training before purchasing a firearm. Rossi, who is a competitive shooter, and others from Open Source Defense who have volunteered as trainers go over the basics of gun safety, rules such as "Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot" and "Always treat every firearm as though it is loaded."

"At some point, I'll bring out an unloaded gun," Rossi says, "either a pistol or a rifle, and say, 'OK, here's what a Glock looks like, here's how it operates, here's the ergonomics of it, here's how big it is.' "

'We feel almost obligated'

Over the past few weeks, online trainings hitting on similar themes have popped up around the country on platforms like YouTube and Instagram.

One video from a pair of gun enthusiasts in Tennessee posted on the popular gun-focused YouTube channel hickok45 has over 270,000 views.

"We wanted to do a video for all the new shooters out there and gun owners," one of the men says in the video. "We feel almost obligated."

But learning how to use a gun online is limiting. Rossi says the goal is really just to go over basic firearm safety, basic firearm manipulation and some etiquette.

"That's all you can do over video chat and that's all we expect," he says. "The encouragement from us after the chat is we suggest where they can go for their range and get some [hands-on] training."

During a pandemic, more guns could mean more risk

The goal of this kind of training is, ultimately, to prevent people from getting hurt. Dr. Emmy Betz, a researcher at the University of Colorado focusing on injury prevention, says unintentional shootings are a risk. But she's also worried that having a gun in the home risks escalating violent confrontations.

"Specifically, in cases of domestic violence or when someone is suicidal — that having that gun present could turn a situation deadly," Betz says.

Every year, tens of thousands of people die by firearm suicide or domestic violence homicide. Research has shown that the presence of a gun is associated with a higher risk for both.

So although Betz says it is "wonderful" that gun owners are stepping up to offer training, she worries that the combination of more guns plus coronavirus fear and anxiety could lead to more gun deaths.

"I'm skeptical," Betz says, "that all of these new purchasers are getting the training that they need and getting the guidance around storage devices that they need."