Gun Violence Hit Record In 2020 & 2021 Is Even Worse
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Gun Violence Exploding in the United States
2. Why Gun Violence is Soaring All of a Sudden
3. 2020 & 2021 a Perfect Storm For Gun Violence
Overview – Gun Violence Exploding in the United States
Through the first six months of 2021, gunfire killed nearly 10,000 people in the United States, about 54 lives lost per day, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research organization. That’s 14 more deaths per day than the average toll during the same period of the previous six years.
This means we are on-track to have more gun violence deaths than in 2020, which was the highest in more than 30 years at 19,379. That number does not include suicides, of which there were 24,090 last year.
Researchers cite a number of factors they say are driving the upswing in gun violence including the unprecedented surge in gun sales last year. In 2020, a year of pandemic, protests and elections, people legally purchased nearly 40 million guns (39,695,315), a 40% increase over 2019 sales, according to analysis of federal data on gun background checks.
About 40% of gun purchasers in 2020 were first-time buyers, according to the background check data. Perhaps even more interesting, the 2020 data show half of all gun buyers were women. One-fifth were Hispanic and one-fifth were Black.
US gun sales in the first six months of 2021 surged 15% to 22,243,220 from the same six months last year. This makes it the largest first half of the year figure since sales were first recorded in the current system in 1998.
Experts have attributed the huge increase in gun violence to a variety of new and long-standing issues — including, of course, soaring gun ownership, widening income inequality and worsening relations between police and the communities they serve, among others — all of which intensified during the coronavirus pandemic and widespread uprisings for racial justice. The violence, its causes and its solutions have sparked wide-ranging and fierce policy debates.
The Gun Violence Archive’s analysis found an increase in gun violence shootings during summers, especially last year, echoing a trend that law enforcement officials and gun violence researchers have warned about for years. While we don’t have data for this summer yet, researchers worry that summer 2021 could be a deadlier season than usual.
“I’m scared to death of the summer, I’ll be real honest,” said Mark Bryant, the Gun Violence Archive’s founder. “I expect this to be a record year.”
Why Gun Violence is Soaring All of a Sudden
Gunfire deaths began to rise significantly in April 2020 when Covid-19 shut down much of the country, in-person schooling was paused and more than 20 million people lost their jobs. So as the pandemic took hold, it was one crisis on top of another. Gun violence — like the coronavirus — takes an unequal toll on communities of color.
Shani Buggs, an assistant professor with the University of California at Davis’s Violence Prevention Research Program lamented, “What we have is compounded trauma. The pandemic exacerbated all of the inequities we had in our country — along racial lines, health lines, social lines, economic lines. All of the drivers of gun violence pre-pandemic were just worsened last year.”
Ironically, in most places, violent-crime rates remain well below what they were in the 1980s, a period that gave way to the “great American crime decline” in the 1990s and 2000s. But last year, in some of the country’s largest cities, homicides increased by a total of 30% when compared with 2019.
In July 2020, shooting deaths reached a peak of roughly 58 per day and continued, nearly unabated, around that level until early 2021 when they fell somewhat. Now, the numbers are rising again, unfortunately, and for reasons which are not completely understood.
In the nation’s capital, 2020 set a recent record for homicides — mostly from gun violence — and their number is rising again this year. Nearly 80 people were killed in the District during the first five months of 2021, a 23% increase over the previous year.
Shootings have also increased in cities from Los Angeles to Chicago to Columbus, Ohio. In Philadelphia, officials are preparing for what could be the deadliest year in the city’s history. The mayor is holding regular updates and meetings on gun violence, reminiscent of weekly coronavirus briefings.
But the rise in gun violence is not just a big-city phenomenon. The number of gunfire deaths has also increased in suburban and rural areas, though the overall numbers are lower because of smaller populations.
Researchers note a number of factors they say are driving the current upswing, including the unprecedented surge in gun sales. As noted above, in 2020 people in this country purchased nearly 40 million guns, the highest ever recorded, and we may top that record in 2021.
Before 2020, gun-sales spikes coincided with elections and mass shootings, such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in late 2012. Last year, the numbers climbed during pandemic-induced shutdowns and again in the summer, with millions protesting a Minneapolis police officer’s killing of George Floyd.
Here’s another interesting stat on gun violence: The Gun Violence Archive found the number of fatal shootings classified as “some type of accident” increased by more than 40% from 2019 to 2020. The number of deadly incidents involving children — who may get guns from adults who do not store them properly — also rose by 45% during the same period.
The gun violence analysis does not include suicides which, as noted above, were higher than gun related killings last year. Researchers have also noted that gun-related deaths among intimate-partner relationships and family violence are also on the rise.
2020 & 2021 a Perfect Storm For Gun Violence
Researchers conclude the last year and a half was a “perfect storm” for rising gun violence. Along with the record surge in gun purchases, the pandemic fueled a recession which overwhelmingly affected low-wage and minority workers and would keep Black women and men out of jobs longer than other Americans.
Then the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis occurred, leading to an erosion of public confidence in law enforcement. The protests after Floyd’s death yielded even more images of police brutality. An increase in gun violence was already underway, but it continued to rise, experts noted, just as it did after police killings in Ferguson, MO and Chicago in 2014.
The pandemic and protests also thinned officer ranks, with many choosing to retire early. As a result, most large cities across America report their numbers of police officers are dangerously below the minimums required to protect their populations. In Austin, near where we live, 150-200 officer vacancies remain unfilled, and the murder rate in the last year is up 96%, according to the police chief. Similar situations exist in cities across America.
Throughout 2020 and into 2021, there were soaring levels of shootings which killed or injured four or more people, but many didn’t get much widespread media attention beyond the places they occurred. This is happening amid growing calls to treat gun violence not only as a matter of law and order but as a public health concern.
There are signs elected officials around the country are increasingly embracing a public health approach, including in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which includes $5 billion over eight years to fund gun violence prevention programs. Negotiations with Senate Republicans over the proposal continue as this is written.
The bottom line is gun sales were off the charts in 2020 and so far in 2021, which is on-track to easily exceed the prior record last year. Likewise, gun violence is at record levels as well so far this year. The reasons behind these unprecedented trends are not entirely clear.
Some contend that gun sales are exploding because many Americans fear Democrats who currently control all three branches of government will move to enact much more restrictive gun control laws as soon as they can. I agree (read the article below), but this doesn’t explain the record spike in gun violence.
Others believe the sharp jump in gun sales has happened because more and more Americans no longer trust the police to protect them. Again, maybe so, but it does not explain the soaring gun violence.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers for the explosion in gun violence. But one thing is clear: Americans are more on-edge than ever when it comes to their personal safety. The fact that women and minorities are purchasing about two-thirds of all guns sold in the last year and a half tells us something big has changed. This is NOT a trend which will be easily reversed.
Finally, if you’re hoping the ammo shortage is going to go away sometime soon, you need to read this article. Looks like it may get even worse starting next month. Also, be sure to read the first link in Special Articles below which discusses how the Brits and the French have evacuated their citizens and supporters out of Kabul while the US does nothing. This is a disgrace!
Very best regards,
Gary D. Halbert