Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Gun Shops, Armed Protestors Take on Controversial Role During COVID-19

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Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

COVID-19 is a perfect storm to galvanize this movement,” says Frank Smyth, author of “The NRA: The Unauthorized History.”

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Gun shops have seen an increase in sales amid the coronavirus health crisis and the presence of armed protesters at the Michigan State Capitol has prompted swift condemnation and sustained fear.

Thousands of background checks have been processed despite the order to close.” — Champe Barton, The Trace

Why are guns playing such an outsized role during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Listen: The Right to Bear Arms Endures Amid Coronavirus Heath Crisis. 


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Champe Bartona reporter covering community violence and the gun industry for The Trace, says that despite many states ordering closures of non-essential stores, like gun shops, several businesses have remained open to the public.

Thousands of background checks have been processed despite the order to close,” says Barton of the steady flow of gun sales during the pandemic. The majority of the shops Barton called in Michigan were still open, he says. Of the stores he spoke with across the country, Barton says many were small businesses worried about their financial survival during the COVID-19 closures. Without strict enforcement and oversight, Barton says many of these shops simply ignored shutdown orders and remained open. 

Frank Smyth, an investigative journalist specializing in armed conflicts, organized crime and human rights overseas, and the author of the newly released “The NRA: The Unauthorized History”, says there is a palpable resurgence of the armed militia movement in America, as demonstrated by the recent protests in Lansing.

There’s no other advanced nation in the world [where] we’d see someone who’s heavily armed go inside a Subway shop to buy a sandwich.” — Frank Smyth, author

He says it’s a dangerous trend, one that has been galvanized in part by the Trump administration and one that blatantly undermines the rule of law.

There’s no other advanced nation in the world [where] we’d see someone who’s heavily armed go inside a Subway shop to buy a sandwich. It’s an ominous sign,” Smyth says.

He adds that the presence of white power protesters with these paramilitary groups is a particularly dangerous sign. “There is an element of inclusiveness in these groups. But when you see these groups protest, it’s overwhelmingly white male, and there are elements of white supremacy protesting with them,” says Smyth.

Russ McNamara, reporter and host of WDET’s All Things Considered, says the rise of paramilitary groups is nothing new and has been a part of American history for quite some time. He adds that after events like the Oklahoma City bombing these militia groups were more heavily monitored and mostly extinguished.

As long as the Republicans in the Legislature are in charge, they’re not going to do anything to prohibit anyone from carrying a gun anywhere.” — Russ McNamara, 101.9 WDET

With the conspiracy fringe groups gaining more of a political voice, paramilitary groups are having something of a renaissance. The armed protests at Michigan’s Capitol building had many disturbed and outraged, even so McNamara says a proposed ban on firearms in the Capitol will likely gain no traction among lawmakers.

As long as the Republicans in the Legislature are in charge, they’re not going to do anything to prohibit anyone from carrying a gun anywhere,” says McNamara.  

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This post is a part of Coronavirus in Michigan.

101.9 WDET, Detroit’s NPR Station, is committed to providing accurate, up-to-date information on coronavirus, and it's related illness COVID-19, in Michigan. 

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