As gun sales spike amid COVID-19, we can choose caring over fear

Hard times do not build character; they reveal it. It’s an old cliché, but worthy of a bumper sticker or a poster, which is where I saw it. Some of the character being revealed in our fellow citizens by COVID-19 is of sterling stuff.

Like the older woman who missed her friends, so she decided to make some car-to-porch visits.

“I call to let them know I’m coming,” she said, “and they come out on the porch, and I stay in the car and we talk. It’s a lot more than six feet. Then I go to the next one.”

And the guys who took up a collection for a restaurant’s waitstaff and kitchen crew that has served them breakfast every Thursday for several years.

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And the church musician who held an old-fashioned hymn-sing online. Parishioners worshipped alone together in front of their laptops and PCs. Amazing Grace indeed.

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“If supplies run low, it turns out our enemy might be each other.”

But then there’s this on CNN Business: “Gun sales surge as coronavirus pandemic spreads.” It’s a phenomenon echoed in headlines across the country.

Ammo.com, which bills itself as the “#1 source for discount ammo online,” told CNN Business that sales of ammo for 40-caliber Smith & Wesson handguns have risen 645 percent since January. The National Crime Information Center says the number of background checks processed on March 16 was 300 percent higher than on the same day in 2019.

“It’s about self-protection,” Larry Hyatt, a gun store owner, told the Charlotte Observer. “What can I do to protect my family? What can I do if I’m in a fight at the grocery? A firearm makes the weak strong.”

Wait. A fight in the grocery store? Where do you shop, Larry?

“When everything around you is uncertain,” a spokesperson for Ammo.com said, “having a supply of ammunition can make our customers feel safer.”

Safe from what? A mysterious, contagious and potentially deadly virus?

“Everyone, they want to have protection in case something happens,” a sales associate at Bullseye Tactical Supply, a gun and ammunition store in Woodbridge, New Jersey, told CNN Business.

In case something happens? Care to be more specific?

He continued: “There’s just an overall feeling of fear of being stranded or having to be isolated to protect their home if, God forbid, supplies become limited and people start looting.”

There it is. It turns out that our enemy may not be invisible after all. Our enemy may be as visible as the family down the street that has run out of food and has turned into a marauding band coming after our stuff. If supplies run low, it turns out our enemy might be each other.

“They’re buying stuff strictly to protect their homes,” gun store owner Chris Idol told the Winston-Salem Journal.

“When the vicious coronavirus comes knocking at your door,” said Michael Timlin, owner and operator of the Smoke N Gun Shop in Mt. Vernon, New York, “you’re getting [a gun].”

No, Mike, I’m not getting a gun. To be honest, the thought never entered my mind. Even now, it just sounds weird.

This is not about guns. Or the Second Amendment. Or the government conniving to take away people’s firearms, no matter what Wayne LaPierre says. This is deeper than that. This is a spiritual issue. This is about a fundamental cleavage in the soul of America.

This is about why, when they have been cut off from most physical human contact for two weeks, some people think of friends from whom they have been separated and devise ways to get to them safely, while other people stock up on ammo.

This is about why some people worry about waitstaff – who under normal circumstances work for way less than minimum wage plus tips and are now trying to get by with reduced hours, assuming they’re among the few who still have jobs – while other people talk about pulling up the drawbridge and preparing to defend themselves against the rampaging hordes that are certain to come when the economy tanks.

“This is about a fundamental cleavage in the soul of America.”

In the United States, we’re less than three weeks into what may turn out to be a long haul, and already some people are talking about fellow citizens and neighbors as if they were potential threats to their life and property.

We will get through this, but not by adopting a mentality that pits me and mine against you and yours, not by arming ourselves against each other. We will get through this by looking after each other, loving neighbors and strangers, as our faith traditions require of us.

From a safe six feet away, of course. And if still more barriers are put in the way of our care, we will figure it out. Because that’s what we do. That is who we are.

EDITOR’S NOTE: BNG is committed to providing timely and helpful news and commentary about ways Christians and churches are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Look for the hashtag #intimeslikethese. You can also use this form to help us identify compelling stories of faith and ministry in these challenging times.

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