In 2020, whereas many communities have been beneath Covid lockdowns, protesters have been flooding the streets and financial uncertainty and social isolation have been deepening, People went on a procuring spree. For firearms.

Some 22 million weapons have been bought that yr, 64 p.c greater than in 2019. Greater than eight million of them went to novices who had by no means owned a firearm, in accordance with the firearm trade’s commerce affiliation, the Nationwide Taking pictures Sports activities Basis.

Firearm homicides elevated that yr as effectively, to 19,350 from 14,392 in 2019. The loss of life depend from weapons, together with suicides, rose to 45,222 in 2020 from 39,702 in 2019. The variety of lives misplaced to weapons rose once more in 2021, to 48,830.

After quashing analysis into gun violence for 25 years, Congress started funneling hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to federal businesses in 2021 to collect information.

Here’s what social psychologists are discovering about who bought firearms, what motivated them and the way proudly owning, and even holding, a firearm can alter conduct.

Thousands and thousands of People who had by no means owned a gun bought a firearm throughout a two-and-a-half-year interval that started in January 2019, earlier than the pandemic, and continued via April 2021.

Of the 7.5 million individuals who purchased their first firearm throughout that interval, 5.4 million had till then lived in houses with out weapons, researchers at Harvard and Northeastern College estimated.

The brand new consumers have been totally different from the white males who’ve traditionally made up a majority of gun homeowners. Half have been girls, and practically half have been folks of shade (20 p.c have been Black, and 20 p.c have been Hispanic).

“The individuals who have been all the time shopping for are nonetheless shopping for — they didn’t cease. However an entire different group of oldsters have are available,” stated Michael Anestis, the manager director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Analysis Heart, who was not concerned within the examine.

Self-defense is the highest motive People buy handguns. Gun possession isn’t just a constitutional proper however a mandatory type of safety, in accordance with organizations just like the Nationwide Rifle Affiliation and Nationwide Taking pictures Sports activities Basis.

A examine of people who stated they have been planning to buy a primary or second firearm throughout the early days of the pandemic discovered that would-be consumers have been extra prone to see the world as harmful and threatening than people who weren’t planning to buy a firearm.

These planning to purchase firearms have been extra prone to agree strongly with statements like “Folks can’t be trusted,” “Persons are not what they appear” and “You want to watch your again,” in contrast with these not planning a purchase order, famous Dr. Anestis, an creator of the examine.

Consumers have been additionally extra afraid of uncertainty. They tended to strongly agree with statements akin to “Unexpected occasions upset me significantly” and “I don’t like not figuring out what comes subsequent.”

They have been notably frightened by Covid, in accordance with the examine, which was performed in June and July 2020. They have been extra prone to be important staff. Dr. Anestis, who research suicide, stated these planning to buy a gun have been additionally extra prone to harbor suicidal ideas.

Greater than half of all gun deaths in the USA are suicides. In 2021, for instance, there have been 48,830 gun deaths; 26,328 have been suicides.

“Firearm homeowners aren’t any extra prone to have suicidal ideas than non-owners,” Dr. Anestis stated. “However if you happen to have a look at who bought a firearm throughout the surge, and if it was their first firearm, they have been more likely than others to have had suicidal ideas within the final month, yr or lifetime general.”

The variety of suicides didn’t enhance throughout the pandemic, however the presence of a gun within the dwelling will increase the chance for so long as the household owns the gun. And whereas analysis reveals that some folks purchase a gun whereas they’re planning a suicide, most individuals who used a gun to kill themselves already owned the firearm — for 10 years, on common.

Households with youngsters who saved one firearm loaded and unlocked have been extra probably than those that saved weapons saved to purchase one other firearm throughout the pandemic, different researchers have discovered. It’s doable the households have been retaining weapons simply accessible as a result of they feared for his or her security, and that this concern motivated the acquisition of an extra firearm.

However these households are notably weak to gun accidents, stated Rebeccah Sokol, a behavioral scientist on the College of Michigan and a co-author of the examine. “Teenagers have among the highest charges of firearm deadly and nonfatal accidents,” she added.

Experiments have proven that human contact might be remarkably soothing. In a single examine in 2006, for instance, neuroscientists discovered that when married girls have been subjected to delicate electrical shocks as a part of an experiment, reaching out to take their husband’s hand supplied a direct sense of aid.

Nick Buttrick, a psychologist at College of Wisconsin-Madison, wished to know whether or not firearms supplied related consolation to gun homeowners, serving as a type of psychological safety blanket.

“The true query I wished to reply was, What do folks get out of getting a gun?” he stated. “Why would anyone need to take this actually harmful factor and produce it into their lives?”

He recruited faculty college students, a few of whom got here from gun-owning households, to take part in a examine wherein they’d be subjected to very delicate electrical shocks (he likened the feeling to static electrical energy).

Whereas the shocks have been administered, members got a buddy’s hand, a steel object or a prop that seemed and felt like a pistol however had no firing mechanism. For members who grew up round weapons, holding the prop that resembled a firearm supplied the best consolation, Dr. Buttrick stated.

“In case you got here from a gun-owning family, simply having a gun current makes you’re feeling extra comfortable,” stated Dr. Buttrick, whose examine has not but been revealed.

For members unfamiliar with weapons, the alternative was true: They grew to become extra anxious when holding a duplicate of a firearm. “In case you didn’t come from a gun-owning family, having a gun current made the shock worse,” he stated. “You have been extra on edge.”

Advocacy organizations just like the N.R.A. emphasize the necessity for protected dealing with and storage of firearms and provide coaching packages meant to make possession safer. However critics say public well being officers have performed a poor job of speaking the dangers to People.

Many research have discovered that quick access to firearms doesn’t make the house safer. As an alternative, possession raises the probability of each suicide and murder, stated Sarah Burd-Sharps, the senior director of analysis at Everytown for Gun Security, a nonprofit that works to finish gun violence.

One of many earliest research to convey consideration to the hazard was a 1993 paper in The New England Journal of Medication that discovered that retaining a gun within the dwelling introduced a 2.7-fold enhance within the danger of murder, with nearly all the shootings carried out by members of the family or intimate acquaintances. The findings have since been replicated in quite a few research.

“You might be more likely to be a sufferer of that gun than to efficiently defend your self,” Ms. Burd-Sharps stated, including that gun homeowners “are tragically not understanding the dangers.”

When Amadou Diallo was shot 41 occasions within the vestibule of his constructing within the Bronx greater than 20 years in the past, law enforcement officials stated they mistook the pockets he was holding for a weapon. In Cleveland in 2014, a police officer killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice as a result of he thought the kid’s “airsoft” duplicate pistol was an actual gun.

Researchers are more and more specializing in the concept that an armed individual is extra prone to understand others as armed, and to reply as if she or he have been threatened, an idea referred to as gun embodiment.

“The thought behind embodiment is that your capability to behave within the setting adjustments the way you actually see the setting,” stated Nathan Tenhundfeld, an affiliate professor of psychology on the College of Alabama in Huntsville and a co-author of 1 current examine. “Gun embodiment will get on the concept of the outdated colloquialism ‘Whenever you’re holding a hammer, every part seems to be like a nail.’”

Stereotypes and feelings affect an observer’s capability to appropriately establish a gun and, subsequently, whether or not a specific particular person is definitely armed. One examine discovered that members have been extra prone to mistakenly suppose {that a} Black individual was holding a gun than to mistakenly suppose {that a} white individual was armed.

In analysis utilizing pc simulations, members usually tend to shoot at a goal who seems to be sporting a turban.

In a current effort to duplicate older research on gun embodiment, Dr. Tenhundfeld and his colleagues gave faculty college students a pretend gun or a impartial object — a spatula. They held the objects whereas watching pictures of weapons and different bizarre objects come up on a pc display.

They have been requested to shortly determine whether or not to “shoot” in response. When the members have been holding the gun, they took longer to reply, had a tougher time quickly distinguishing between weapons and nonthreatening objects, and made extra errors.

“They weren’t biased — they have been simply getting it fallacious extra typically, and have been slower whereas holding a gun when the thing they have been was a shoe,” Dr. Tenhundfeld stated.

It might be that it is a type of gun embodiment, he stated, including that the participant’s “capability to behave within the setting is affecting how they see the setting — that holding that gun is distorting the way you’re seeing the world.”

Audio produced by Adrienne Hurst.