May 7, 2020 - Health

U.S. still has a gun violence problem despite coronavirus lockdowns

Data:The Gun Violence Archive; Graphic: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data:The Gun Violence Archive; Graphic: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Police departments throughout the U.S. have seen crime rates fall since the coronavirus pandemic, but shootings in some cities have surged despite stay-at-home orders.

Why it matters: Before the pandemic, mass shootings — when four or more people are injured — drove the national conversation on gun violence. But while shootings at schools or crowded places snagged the headlines, victims were in their homes 61% of the time when gunfire erupted.

By the numbers: The U.S. logged nearly 2,100 gun deaths between March 1 and April 19, 6% more than the same time period in the past three years, per aggregated data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.

What's happening: Nerves are frayed, and cities are reporting gun violence at grocery stores and other public spaces over people exercising what they believe are their rights.

  • A security guard at a Family Dollar in Flint, Michigan, was fatally shot after he asked a customer to wear a state-mandated face mask to shop in the store and an argument broke out, CNN reports.
  • Stillwater, Oklahoma, amended an emergency order this week after residents said wearing face masks was unconstitutional and threatened employees and store owners with violence.

The big picture: Americans are still confronting gunfire in their homes during the pandemic, including domestic violence incidents, injuries from improperly stored firearms and suicide, per research organization Giffords.

  • Stay-at-home orders have meant fewer bystanders and police in public who can provide eye-witness accounts.
  • Many Americans have also stocked up on guns since the outbreak, including a rise in first-time owners.
"Under all of these social-economic stressors and social isolation, you now have firearms, one of the biggest risk factors for fatal outcomes for self-harm. ... Now we have a lot of guns in homes and I'm deeply concerned about domestic homicide, suicide and a lot of bored kids with time on their hands if those guns are not stored safely."
— Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research

Zooming in: Dallas, Nashville, Philadelphia and Tucson saw shootings, firearm homicides and assaults go up while crimes like robberies and drug offenses declined, per an analysis on shootings and the pandemic by The Trace.

  • Chicago, New Orleans and Washington saw gun violence fall while under lockdown compared to weeks prior, but not as much as other crimes where guns weren't involved.
  • Some cities like Baltimore, St. Louis and Philadelphia had already been grappling with an upswing in homicides since 2019. A vast majority of these deaths were caused by guns.

Yes, but: Shootings generally increase as the weather warms up. Experts say it's best to watch year-over-year trends of gun violence in addition to data from periods before and after the state lockdowns.

Between the lines: Emergency response workers already had the daunting task of treating shooting victims in underserved neighborhoods before the onset of the pandemic. Now these same communities are also the hardest hit by COVID-19 infections, and their resources are battling both public health crises.

The bottom line: It will likely take months or longer to fully understand the effects of gun violence during the coronavirus pandemic, Webster said.

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