Gun purchases increased by 70 percent in March 2020 compared to March 2019, according to a 2020 report from Aftermath, a national crime scene service. Scott Charles sees this rise as a response to people’s fear of the pandemic, he said.
“Here’s this pandemic, it sounds a lot like the zombie apocalypse, and people want to be armed,” said Charles, trauma outreach coordinator at Temple Hospital.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Safe Bet, an organization that provides free gun locks to residents, shifted distribution online this year. Residents request locks online, which can be shipped to their house or picked up at Temple Hospital. Since 2016, Charles, the organization’s founder, has given out 7,000 gun locks to prevent unintentional shootings among children.
“A lot of people were buying new firearms and you had a lot of kids who were home now all day, every day, which really, we felt, would increase the likelihood of unintentional shootings,” Charles said. “That’s one of the reasons that we’re really pushing to get as many free gun locks as possible.”
Before COVID-19, Safe Bet held free gun lock giveaways on the street and didn’t give many out through their virtual portal, Charles said. The online demand for gun locks has increased substantially during the past year, he added
Gun cable locks loop through the gun’s ejection port into the empty magazine well, where ammunition is placed. Once locked, ammunition can’t be placed in the gun, according to the Safe Bet website.
About 31 percent of deaths caused by unintentional shooting could have been prevented with gun locks, according to Aftermath.
Law enforcement often hand out gun locks, which can deter gun owners from seeking out locks if guns are acquired through straw purchasing, when someone purchases and sells a gun illegally to someone else, Charles added.
“One of the things that I was hearing from patients and others is that they were nervous about taking gun locks from the police because there are a lot of prohibited individuals in Philadelphia who are not legally allowed to own guns,” Charles said.
Community organizations, like Youth Empowerment for Advancement Hangout Philly and Operation Save Our City, partner with Safe Bet to distribute gun locks in person during COVID-19.
Rosalind Pichardo, Save Our City’s founder, handed out gun locks in person to Kensington residents during the past year, she said.
“It made it that much more important for me to be out there,” Pichardo said. “The police weren’t out there, it was just like nobody was doing it.”
YEAH Philly, a youth-led organization addressing the causes of violence in West and Southwest Philadelphia, partnered with Safe Bet last year to distribute gun locks to residents during food giveaways, said founder and executive director Kendra Van de Water.
“During COVID, the in-person stuff with [Charles] hasn’t been able to happen, but we still made sure that we have these conversations, we’re in communication and like we still give out gun locks every day to people,” she added.
As COVID-19 vaccination efforts increase, Charles plans to resume street outreach and events to connect with residents in person.
“I would love to, you know, partner with, whether it’s a philanthropy or a gun safe company, is to work on getting the messaging out there, especially during these times, until we open up, just keep developing and get the word out there to let people know why it’s important that they protect their children by doing something as simple as locking up their guns,” Charles added.