(PM Images/Getty Images)

US Gun Violence Rose 30% During The Pandemic, And Families Were in The Line of Fire

31 OCTOBER 2021

2020 was one of the deadliest years on record in the United States. Not only has COVID-19 claimed the lives of more than 700,000 Americans, but gun violence has also hit a two-decade historical high.

 

It's hard to say with any certainty how these two crises are connected, but researchers suspect the pandemic and stay-at-home measures created a culture of stress, increased substance abuse, domestic violence, a lack of social interaction, and greater access to firearms that may have culminated in more violent crime and firearm-related suicides.

The first nationwide analysis of police and media reports has now confirmed between early March 2020 and late March 2021 there was a 30 percent surge in gun violence compared to the year before.

In 28 of the states studied, the start of the pandemic coincided with a rise in gun violence. In Minnesota, Michigan, and New York, the rate actually surged by more than 100 percent.

Pennsylvania saw one of the most alarming upticks of anywhere in the US. In 2020, the state's capital, Harrisburg, reported more homicides than in the past 30 years.

Only one state in the entire country, Alaska, saw a dip in gun violence during the pandemic.

"While stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures are vital to contain the spread of COVID 19, we also need to be aware of the unintended social and economic stressors that may lead to gun violence," the authors write.

 

A rise in violent crime and domestic violence is something public health experts have been warning about since the start of the pandemic, and now, looking back, their worst fears were realized.

The psychological stress of a pandemic plus a rise in firearm sales seem to have escalated the crisis of gun violence and put undue pressure on an already overwhelmed public health system.

"[It's a] collision of two epidemics in the United States," physician-scientist Paddy Ssentongo told a Pennsylvania television station.

"It's going to put a strain of a higher magnitude on healthcare services. Patients are not going to get to receive the services they need because there is going to be competition."

Gun sales seem to be a big part of the problem. This year, the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety published a report that found Americans purchased 22 million guns in 2020, a 64 percent increase over 2019.

Data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System revealed a 34 percent surge between February and March 2020, hitting a new high in firearm checks.

One 2019 study found for every 10 percent increase in household gun ownership, there was a 13 percent increase in the incidence of domestic firearm homicides. So it's no surprise that domestic violence spiked last year in combination with these sales.

 

With more guns available in the home and with families under stay-at-home orders, Everytown found the number of kids unintentionally shot and killed had increased by nearly a third since 2019.

Today, children and teens in America are 15 times more likely to die from gunfire than kids in other high-income countries. The pandemic seems to have only made those statistics worse.

Nor is it just children that have been impacted by rising gun sales and the fallout of the global pandemic. Women seem especially vulnerable to gun-related domestic violence for similar reasons to children.

Domestic violence shelters have been swamped during the pandemic as people try to escape their abusers, and initial data has found that domestic violence increased by 8.1 percent after stay-at-home orders were instituted

If an abusive partner has access to a gun, a woman is five times more likely to die at their hands. If a state's background checks prohibit convicted domestic abusers from acquiring a gun, it has 13 percent fewer partner homicides.

"Gun violence is a frequently ignored public health epidemic. The spike in gun violence in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic comes as a stark reminder that we cannot afford to ignore it any longer," the authors of the new data analysis write.

"Unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, which still carries a low threat of death in children and young adults, the threat of being killed by a firearm is a much more significant concern in this population."

COVID-19 isn't the only threat to human life in the US. It's about time we take both these epidemics seriously.

The study was published in Scientific Reports.