The Perfect Storm? Political Instability and Background Checks During COVID-19




Political Violence, Pandemic, Social Upheaval, Guns, Regulation, United States


The COVID-19 pandemic has been observed to have increased aggressive behavior and violence in the United States. This study tests whether political instability events propelled gun purchasing behavior through a temporally sensitive analysis based on data drawn from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) and monthly data from the FBI’s NICS National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It utilizes a multi-methodological framework featuring both regression modeling and qualitative comparative analysis. While results from statistical inquiry do not lend support to significant associations of any single variable on the outcome, the comparative configurational inquiry does identify three salient pathways that brought about background check increases during COVID-19. All three solutions feature the conditions of political instability and presidential election events. Alongside these factors, mass shooting occurrences are present in two of the identified solutions. These findings reveal that COVID-19 fostered a set of conditions and the formation of a “Perfect Storm” which resulted in the greatest number of annual gun purchases in recorded history.


Anisin, A. Mass Shootings and Civilian Armament. 2022. London, UK: Routledge. DOI:

Bell, T. M,; Robbins, C.; Gosain. A. The Influence of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Pediatric Firearm Injuries. Pediatrics. July 2021, 148 (1) e2020049746. DOI:

Buchanan, L.; Bui, Q.; Patel, J. Black Lives Matter May be the Largest Movement in U.S. History. The New York Times. July 3, 2020. Retrieved from: 2020/07/03/us/george-floyd-protests-crowd-size.html

Caputi, T. L.; Ayers, J. W.; Dredze, M.; Suplina, N.; Burd-Sharps, S. (2020). Collateral crises of gun preparation and the COVID-19 pandemic: infodemiology study. JMIR public health and surveillance, 6(2), e19369. DOI:

Chenoweth, E.; Choi-Fitzpatrick, A.; Pressman, J.; Santos, F. G.; Ulfelder, J. 2020. Methods of Dissent & Collective Action Under COVID: A Crowdsourced List. Crowd Counting Consortium. 2020. August.

Dușa, A. QCA with R. A Comprehensive Resource. Springer International Publishing. 2019.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). 2021. Retrieved from:

Hatchimonji, J, S.; Swendiman, R. A.; Seamon, M. J.; Nance, M. L.Trauma does not quarantine: violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Annals of surgery 272, no. 2 (2020): e53. DOI:

Javed, S. and Mehmood, Y., 2020. No lockdown for domestic violence during COVID-19: a systematic review for the implication of mental-well being. Life and Science. 1(supplement), pp.6-6. DOI:

Karp, A. Estimating global civilian held firearms numbers. Small Arms Survey. 2018. Retrieved from http://www.smallarmssurvey. org/fileadmin/docs/T-Briefing-Papers/SAS-BP-Civilian-Firearms-Numbers.pdf

Khubchandani J, Price JH. Public perspectives on firearm sales in the United States during the COVID‐19 pandemic. Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians Open. 2021 Feb;2(1):e12293. DOI:

Kravitz-Wirtz, N,; Aubel, A,; Schleimer, J,; Pallin, R,; Wintemute, G. Public Concern About Violence, Firearms, and the COVID-19 Pandemic in California. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(1):e2033484. DOI:

Lang BJ, Lang M. Pandemics, protests, and firearms. American Journal of Health Economics. 2021 Mar 1;7(2):131-63. DOI:

Lemieux F. Effect of gun culture and firearm laws on gun violence and mass shootings in the United States: A multi-level quantitative analysis. International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences. 2014;9(1):74.

Liu G, Wiebe DJ. A Time-series Analysis of Firearm Purchasing After Mass Shooting Events in the United States. JAMA network open. 2019 Apr 5;2(4):e191736. DOI:

Lyons M, Brewer G. Experiences of intimate partner violence during lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of family violence. 2021 Feb 26:1-9. DOI:

Micalizzi L, Zambrotta NS, Bernstein MH. Stockpiling in the time of COVID‐19. British journal of health psychology. 2021 May;26(2):535-43. DOI:

Newman BJ, Hartman TK. Mass shootings and public support for gun control. British Journal of Political Science. 2019 Oct;49(4):1527-53. DOI:

Ragin CC. Fuzzy-set social science. University of Chicago Press; 2000.

Shalini, M.; Tushar Singh, T. Gender-based violence during COVID-19 pandemic: a mini-review. Frontiers in Global Women's Health 1 (2020): 4. DOI:

Schleimer, J.P., McCort, C.D., Shev, A.B. et al. Firearm purchasing and firearm violence during the coronavirus pandemic in the United States: a cross-sectional study. Inj. Epidemiol. 8, 43 (2021). DOI:

Schneider CQ, Wagemann C. Standards of good practice in qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) and fuzzy-sets. Comparative sociology. 2010 Jan 1;9(3):397-418. DOI:

Thebault, R.; Rindler, D.Shootings never stopped during the pandemic: 2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades. The Washington Post. March 23, 2021. Retrieved from: 2020-shootings/

Turchin P. Dynamics of Political Instability in the United States, 1780–2010. Journal of Peace Research. 2012 Jul;49(4):577-91. DOI:

Turchin P. Dynamical Feedbacks Between Population Growth and Sociopolitical Instability in Agrarian States. Structure and Dynamics. 2005 Sep 18;1(1). DOI:

Turchin P, Nefedov SA. Secular cycles. Princeton University Press. 2009. DOI:

Turchin P. Ages of discord. Chaplin, CT: Beresta Books. 2016.

United States Bureau of Economic Analysis. Gross Domestic Product. July, 10 2021. Retrieved from:

Vis B. The comparative advantages of fsQCA and regression analysis for moderately large-N analyses. Sociological Methods & Research. 2012 Feb;41(1):168-98. DOI:

Wallace L. Responding to Violence With Guns: Mass Shootings and Gun Acquisition. Soc Sci J. 2019 Dec 09;52(2):156-167. DOI:

Williams, J. Gun sales on the rise amid pandemic uncertainty, Biden's vow for gun reform. The Hill. January 30, 2021. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from




How to Cite

Anisin, A. . (2023). The Perfect Storm? Political Instability and Background Checks During COVID-19. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, 12, 15–26.