Are Americans eager to get back to shopping, dining out, or going to the movies? Not according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll that found large majorities of respondents in favor of keeping most businesses shut down, including gun stores, at least for the time being.
The most significant opposition is to reopening movie theaters, with 82 percent of Americans saying they should not be allowed to open up in their state. There is also broad opposition to reopening gyms (78 percent opposed), dine-in restaurants and nail salons (both with 74 percent opposed).
Gun stores are next, with 70 percent saying they should not be reopened, followed by barbershops and hair salons (69 percent opposed) and retail shops such as clothing stores (66 percent opposed) and golf courses (59 percent opposed).
It’s not that Americans are suddenly interested in shutting down gun stores, but rather it looks like they’re afraid to re-open the economy in general for fear of catching the coronavirus or concern that re-opening the economy will lead to a surge in cases. If you’re looking for logic in the poll, good luck. Based on these poll numbers, I don’t think many of us are thinking too logically at the moment, unfortunately.
What’s interesting to me is that in most states gun stores never did close, and there’s no evidence that gun stores have caused any outbreaks of the coronavirus. Most stores are operating with social distancing policies in place; limiting the number of customers inside, cleaning between customers, and the like. That seems to be working well, but still a large majority of respondents say that gun shops should be shut down for the time being. It’s another bit of evidence that suggests some of our current fears are being taken to an extreme.
According to the poll, 56-percent of those surveyed say they feel comfortable going to a grocery store, but 67-percent say they’d be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store. Why are we comfortable shopping at Costco, but uncomfortable shopping at Old Navy? I’m not a psychologist, but I’m guessing it’s because most of us have gone grocery shopping over the past couple of months. That’s not an unknown activity, but venturing out to eat at a restaurant or try on a new pair of jeans in the current pandemic is. The things we’ve been doing are less scary to us than the activities we’ve paused.
Even activities that come with a low risk of coronavirus transmission are unpopular in this poll. Over half of those surveyed say that golf courses should remain closed, for instance, though most doctors and public health experts say that the coronavirus doesn’t spread effectively outside, and have encouraged Americans to spend more time outdoors. There’s no real reason to be afraid of golfing, especially if courses are maintaining social distancing policies in the clubhouse and snack bars, but that’s not what Americans are hearing from the news media and friends and family on social media.
Instead, they’re hearing a growing chorus of voices proclaim that any relaxation of the economic shutdown is going to lead to pandemonium, overwhelmed hospitals, and a wave of coronavirus deaths. I worry that the current debate is increasingly focused on two false choices: keeping the economy locked down tight or re-opening everything at once. Neither are likely to happen, and both would likely be a bad idea. Instead, governments and consumers alike are going to have to thread the needle; opening up the economy as much as possible without overwhelming hospitals.
I’ve spoken before about the fact that my wife is undergoing treatment for lung cancer, and the chemotherapy drugs she’s taking has taken a toll on her immune system. We’ve been on a pretty tight lockdown since early March, and that’s likely going to continue for months to come. I understand the fear that people have, because I’ve felt it myself. I’m not going to live my life in fear, however. I mask up when I go grocery shopping, or go into the local Tractor Supply Co. for animal feed. I haven’t needed to visit my local gun shop lately, but I’m not going to be fearful the next time I do. I’ll wear a mask, I’ll conduct my business, I’ll leave, and I’ll wash my hands as soon as I get back home. I will do the things that I need to do to try to keep my wife protected, but I’m not going to cower in my house afraid to set foot outside.
Perhaps it’s just human nature to be afraid of the unknown, but it’s also within us to conquer that fear. Caution is good. Panic is not, but unfortunately, that’s what many of us are feeling at the moment.