Why Are American Hospitals Privately Owned?

Hoarding guns

Arms sellers in the USA record record sales in the corona crisis. It seems like the virus can be shot.

From Bernd Pickert

The Americans are arming. Since the corona crisis reached the public consciousness in the United States in mid-March and the first communities and states began to shut down public life, gun purchases have been booming. The Federal Police FBI, which is responsible for mandatory background checks in licensed arms shops, recorded a record 3.7 million applications from the end of February to the end of March.

The number of guns bought is likely to be much higher, however: on the one hand, because only one application is required to buy multiple guns, and on the other, because no such queries are made for private sales, online mail order business and purchases at arms fairs.

Even those who already owned a weapon have apparently upgraded: The online ammunition retailer ammo.com reported an increase in ammunition sales of 792 percent.

The increase in the run on firearms can only be compared with January 2013: Many Americans feared that things could soon become tighter with the free purchase of firearms. President Barack Obama, an avowed supporter of stricter gun control laws, had just been re-elected at the time, and the Sandy Hook school massacre had rekindled the national debate about tightening the law.

Where is the rush coming from?

A similar motivation is likely to be behind the current run on the gun shops. With the US Democrats, Obama's former Vice President Joe Biden established himself as the favorite for the presidential candidacy at the end of February, and he is also a strict advocate of stricter gun laws.

But that alone does not explain the rush: it is rather the corona crisis that drives people to buy weapons - just as if they could shoot the virus. "Fear and uncertainty makes a lot of people buy guns," says Penn State Altoona University criminal law professor Lacey Wallace. "The number one reason people want to buy and own guns is personal protection. When they see the news that everything is going to be shut down and the virus is spreading, it creates a lot of uncertainty," she told the Huffington Post.

This also reflects a narrative that is the same in all dystopian series and Hollywood films: whether in the zombie apocalypse or in an environmentally-related cinematic staged end of the world: Anyone who ultimately wants to have a chance of survival with their family needs weapons to face the collapse of the state in the struggle to enforce the scarce resources.

Dangerous narrative

The Trump administration even promoted this narrative at the end of March: In a memorandum from the Homeland Security Authority on industries and job profiles that urgently need to be maintained during the pandemic, the health service, security authorities, pharmacies and the food trade, but also arms deals.

This is not legally binding because the design of pandemic-related restrictions on public life is incumbent on the states and municipalities. But wherever governors decided that arms deals would also have to close in the course of the public "lockdown", lawsuits from the arms lobby were spurred. And thanks to Washington's recommendation to consider gun shops as part of critical infrastructure, they have often been successful.

The strongest organization in the gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, which was recently plagued by numerous internal scandals and conflicts, is currently doing everything possible to increase the pressure: Handouts to its supporters have titles such as "Covid-19: Threat of the Second Amendment" or "Pandemic" shows the danger of so-called 'general' background checks ".

The second amendment to the constitution passed in 1791, which actually speaks of the fact that "the right of the people to own and carry weapons should not be impaired" because "well-ordered militias guarantee the security of a free state", was made at the latest since a ruling by the colonel 2008 Court of Justice reinterpreted into a general individual right to gun ownership. For the firearms lobby, this is one of their greatest successes: It is not only fully supported by Donald Trump, whose election campaign it supported with 30 million US dollars in 2016, but by most of the Republican politicians.

Family Fire New Deaths

Anti-firearms organizations - and even some arms dealers - fear that the mass acquisition of firearms by inexperienced buyers could put additional strain on the public health system. For years, the Brady Campaign has been warning of the so-called "Family Fire": Accidental deaths from unsecured firearms that are found by children, for example. According to the campaign, eight minors are accidentally injured or killed every day in the USA because their parents' firearms are not or not adequately secured.

In times when families sit close together for many weeks to avoid infection with the coronavirus, an increase in domestic violence against children and women is expected worldwide. Adding firearms can have catastrophic consequences, fear critics of the lax US gun laws.

Hospitals and local politicians are already sounding the alarm. In mid-March, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young urged citizens to lay down arms and stay home because of the spread of the coronavirus. The city now needs its hospital beds for Covid-19 patients and not for victims of senseless gun violence, Young said after seven people were admitted the night before after a shooting. "To all of you who want to keep shooting people in this city: we will not tolerate it. We will persecute you, we will get you."

"We need the beds"

That sounds incredibly helpless - as if murder, manslaughter and bodily harm had not triggered any police investigations before Corona. It is the desperation of a mayor who knows that in the face of rampant gun violence, the US has de facto long since surrendered. There are already around 120 firearms for every 100 inhabitants - the assumption of around 400 million privately owned firearms on which this calculation is based is an estimate. The vast majority of weapons are not registered, so the number of unreported cases could be even higher.

In no other wealthy industrialized country do so many people die of gun violence every year: The Gun Violence Archive named the record number of 15,208 deaths in 2019. This does not include suicides that were over 24,000 in the previous year.

More than 80,000 people are injured by firearms each year, and one in four guns victims has to go to intensive care, writes Dr. Elinor Kaufman, Philadelphia ICU specialist in the New York Times. Criminal offenses generally decreased during curfew times, but not the number of gunshot wounds. In her opinion, they could rather increase - and how the already overwhelmed hospitals should cope with it, she does not know. Her appeal: "Please, stop shooting. We need the beds."

The author is the foreign editor of the taz.