Congratulations on your new gun. Now lock it up | Opinion

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, speaks at a joint session to honor the Tree of Life victims. (Courtesy Pa. House Democrats)

By Dan Frankel

So many Pennsylvanians bought guns last week that our state background check system crashed. Twice.

In fact, 4,342 of you bought or transferred a gun or applied for a license to carry a gun on March 17 alone, according to a press release from the Pennsylvania State Police. Of course, those are just handgun purchases, because Pennsylvania’s laws allow the purchase of long guns with no background checks at all.

It’s no surprise that our friends and neighbors are seeking ways to feel safe during this unprecedented and frightening time.

Nearly overnight, a rapidly-spreading illness has forced us all into our homes. Many jobs that seemed secure a week ago are in doubt, or already eliminated. Families no longer know how they will put food on the table, and the situation is rapidly changing. Seniors are frightened for their health and their financial futures in the face of an economic tsunami.

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The urge to self-protect makes sense.

Unfortunately, if you bought a gun last week, your home is now less safe.

There are three ways that a gun can hurt or kill someone in your house: homicide, suicide and accidents. Now, with your new gun, study after study has shown that every person in your household has a significantly higher chances of dying in one of those ways.

Of course, those studies do not take into consideration the significant increase in stress that families are grappling with now, between the health threat of the COVID-19 and the mitigation efforts to stop it.

The data does not account for the fact that whole families are home all day, with constant access to the firearms, or that children are out of school and that their curiosity and boredom will lead them to corners of their homes that they wouldn’t normally see.

Also not included in the research is the fact that many victims of domestic violence now have no escape — no workday to cool the situation down, no trip to a friend’s house to regroup.

Our laws should do more to require safe storage and universal background checks and to temporarily move guns away from people who are experiencing a crisis, but the Republican-led General Assembly has refused to even have the discussion.

So we find ourselves here, with a panicked public and without any reasonable protections in place.

If you are a Pennsylvanian who bought a gun last week to protect your family from the unknown in an uncertain time, I ask that you also protect your family from the risks that we do know: Please, lock up your guns, and store your ammunition separately. If you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis, please takes steps to get firearms out of reach.

We all want to protect our families and our communities. Let’s do everything we can to make sure the efforts to do so don’t themselves lead to tragedy.

State Rep. Dan Frankel, a Democrat, represents the Allegheny County-based 23rd House District. He writes from Pittsburgh.