Gun violence soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study finds – but the reasons are complicated

Police Line do Not Cross
WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

Editor’s note:

At WitnessLA we try to keep you informed about new and important research that relates to the worlds of justice and injustice on which we report.

Occasionally, however, due to competing journalistic priorities, along with daily time constraints, we fail to write about relevant reports and/or studies, even when we think they are worth your time

With this dilemma in mind, we recently added a section that allows us to quickly draw your attention — via short briefs — to a new study or report that we think might interest you, such as this one.

So read on.

A new study looks at the spike in gun violence during COVID

by Paddy Ssentongo and Jennifer McCall-Hosenfeld

In a new study, we found that the overall U.S. gun violence rate rose by 30% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the year before. In 28 states, the rates were substantially higher between March 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, compared to the pre-pandemic period from Feb. 1, 2019, through Feb. 29, 2020. There were 51,063 incidents of gun violence events resulting in injury or death in the United States in the first 13 months of the pandemic compared to 38,919 incidents in the same time span pre-pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, gun sales in the United States surged, with more than 20% of these purchases by first-time buyers. And access to firearms is a well-established risk factor for gun-related suicide and homicide. This sharp increase in firearm purchases raises serious concerns, since the combination of increased stress, social disruption and isolation during the pandemic created a perfect storm of conditions that could contribute to increased gun violence. 

These trends were also concerning since the increased rates of gun violence could strain the health care infrastructure that was overtaxed due to an unprecedented influx of COVID-19 patients. 

We are a team of scientists and physicians with expertise in preventive health care and modeling diseases of public health concern.

How pandemic conditions played a role

The pandemic has been associated with psychological distressdue to increased isolation, increased rates of domestic violence, a disruption of social networks and unemployment. But much more research is needed to get a clear picture of how all of these variables may have contributed to overall gun violence.

We used a publicly available database of gun violence events and divided those events by the number of people living in each state. We also added other factors such as age, race and ethnicity, and we recorded the status of each state’s stay-at-home orders and the number of COVID-19 cases. We found that gun violence rates increased substantially in 28 states, or 56% of all states, scattered throughout the U.S., without any clear pattern. The increase in gun violence was highest in Minnesota, with a 120% increase.

Due to ongoing police investigations, we were advised to not separate out counts of suicides and homicides before investigations are completed. To get a fuller picture, it will be important for future studies to assess comparisons of suicide and homicide rates during this same period. 

The spike in gun violence in the era of COVID-19 comes as a stark reminder that greater public health resources are needed to address and prevent gun violence, even as we continue to work to mitigate the pandemic. 

Dr. Paddy Ssentongo

Author Dr. Paddy Ssentongo is a physician-scientist and an Assistant Professor at the Center for Neural Engineering, Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Penn State University.

Dr. Jennifer McCall-Hosenfeld

Author Dr. Jennifer McCall-Hosenfeld’s research focuses on the intersection between women’s primary and preventive health care, intimate partner violence and improving health care for rural women. She has published extensively on women’s health and intimate partner violence.

This research brief is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. You can read the original story in The Conversation

And if you want to take a look at the underlying study, you can find it here.

Photo at top via Lexipol.

The Conversation

1 Comment

  • Let’s see, could the rise in gun violence be attributable to the following:

    1.) Defunding the police
    2.) District Attorneys who favor suspects rather than victims
    3.) The release of prisoners due to so called “over crowding”
    4.) Police agencies being ham strung by “woke” politicians

    The one thing in common with these items can be summed up with one word. It begins with the letter “D.”

    Further, the increase in gun purchases was due to the aforementioned items. Citizens have been placed in a precarious position, with the thought process as being, it’s either me or them.

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