Social unrest and the pandemic appear to have achieved what decades of marketing campaigns from gun companies failed to do. A new study has found that almost half of all first-time gun buyers since the start of 2019 are women, the Wall Street Journal reports. Gun sales soared during the pandemic, with a record high of 21 million background checks carried out last year. According to the 2021 National Firearms Survey, which polled more than 19,000 adults, an estimated 3.5 million women and 4 million men became new gun owners between January 2019 and April of this year.
The gun market has traditionally been much more male-dominated. A Pew Research Center survey in June found that 30% of Americans own a gun—39% of men and 22% of women. According to the National Firearms Survey, new gun owners have also become more racially diverse in recent years: 55% were white, 21% Black, and 19% Hispanic. But existing gun owners who bought more weapons were mostly white (74%) and male (71%).
Michael Cargill, owner of a gun store in Austin, told the Washington Post earlier this year that his customers became a lot more diverse in 2020. “It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican, white or Black," said Cargill, who is Black. "One side said, ‘Trump’s going to be reelected and it’s going to get violent,’ and the other said, 'Biden’s going to win and he’s going to come after the guns.'" He said his new customers included many women who were worried about rising violence.
Sociology professor Neilan Barnes tells the Journal that she bought her first gun last year after seeing Trump supporters drive past her home on the way to rallies and worrying about civil unrest. She is a member of the Girls Gun Club, an all-female Los Angeles shooting group with more than 1,500 members. "They may not identify as feminists but they are empowered women who know how to use a gun," Barnes says. David Frum at the Atlantic notes that gun violence has risen along with firearms sales, and female-led groups including Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are trying to emulate the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (Read more guns stories.)