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FRANÇOIS VIGNEAULT

The threat of COVID-19 has Oregonians buying firearms at record rates.

According to Oregon State Police's database, the number of requests for firearm background checks—a required step to purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer in Oregon—was double the average rate in March.

The state's data shows that on average, the monthly rate for Oregon background check requests between 2017 and February 2020 was 23,669. Last month, that number shot up to 51,526.

That trend was reflected locally: In March 2019, Multnomah County reported 2,523 background check requests. Last month, that number was 4,715.

Firearm shops have witnessed record gun sales across the US as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the FBI, more than 3.7 million background checks were conducted in March—the highest number in a single month since background checks became mandatory in 1998.

Some states, including New York, have closed gun shops as part of their sweeping stay-at-home orders, prompting legal blowback from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA argues the closures infringe on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

Gov. Kate Brown declined to name gun stores in her executive order that closed a wide range of other retail businesses. The vast majority of Portland-area gun shops, however, have continued to remain open—some with reduced hours and capacity limits—and continue to see firearms and ammunition flying off their shelves.

Oregon Arms and Ammunition posted on Facebook on March 18 that its business was seeing an “absolutely insane” demand from customers.

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Advocates with Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation, a group that focuses on reducing gun violence, say they’re worried what the increase in gun sales could mean for people experiencing mental health crises or unsafe home environments. The Portland Police Bureau recently announced that both domestic violence calls and suicide attempts increased significantly in March.

“Gun owners should understand that bringing a firearm into your home and community increases the chance that a family member will be fatally shot with that firearm or use it for suicide,” warned Penny Okamoto, the nonprofit’s executive director, in a press release sent Monday.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.