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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A new study casts doubt on the idea that the historic spike in gun-related homicides last year was caused by a near equally sharp rise in gun purchases.

Why it matters: 2020 saw a sharp reversal in the general decline in homicides, and 2021 hasn't been much better. As gun violence once again becomes a major issue for cities and the federal government alike, there's a desperate need to untangle the causes.

By the numbers: Researchers at the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis estimated there were 4.3 million excess firearm purchases — meaning above expected trends — from March through July 2020, and a 27% increase in firearm injuries over roughly the same time.

  • A number of politicians have connected the increase in the overall gun count to the spike in homicides, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — after declaring a state of emergency over gun violence — signing legislation that would allow victims of gun violence to sue firearms manufacturers.

Yes, but: Researchers found no clear association between more gun purchases and increased gun violence, other than a possible connection to an increase in domestic gun violence injuries during the first two months of the pandemic, when lockdowns were most severe.

  • The researchers note that it's possible that many, if not most, of the excess firearm purchases went to people who already owned guns, which would have blunted their impact on rising homicide rates.
  • The study suggests “we need to be looking at other factors, like job loss, economic change, the closure of schools and community organizations and nonprofits, and civil unrest,” Julia Schleimer, the lead author, told the Guardian.

The catch: National data on homicides is spotty and laggy — authorities won't know the full number of murders last year for months — and there is no conclusive database on gun purchases or who owns firearms in the U.S., all of which complicates connecting the dots.

  • Recent data from millions of traffic stops in New Jersey found that while the total number of stops dropped during the first six months of the pandemic, the percentage in which weapons were discovered went up significantly.
  • Cities also recorded an increase in the percentage of assaults involving guns versus other weapons, a sign that the sheer number of firearms in the U.S. — new or old — makes it more likely that a perpetrator will turn to a gun, with potentially fatal consequences.

Go deeper

Aug 5, 2021 - Podcasts

Left behind in Afghanistan

The Biden administration is close to meeting its accelerated deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. But it's leaving behind thousands of translators and interpreters who are waiting for special immigrant visas designated for people who worked with US troops. Najib is one of those translators in limbo.

  • Plus, the Mexican government sues U.S. gunmakers.
  • And, vaccine passports come to New York City.

Guests: Afghan translator, Najib; Telemundo and Axios' Marina Franco; Axios' Tina Reed and Ina Fried.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Pentagon approves request for 100 National Guard troops for "Justice for J6" rally

Security fencing has been reinstalled around the Capitol. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request from Capitol Police to provide 100 D.C. National Guard troops in case law enforcement requires additional support at Saturday's "Justice for J6" rally at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Security preparations have ramped up ahead of the pro-Trump demonstration, where hundreds of protesters sympathetic to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are expected to gather.

Biden threatens new sanctions against Ethiopian officials over Tigray conflict

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing the Treasury and State departments to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Driving the news: Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine conditions in Tigray, but less than 10% of the needed humanitarian supplies has reached the region over the last month "due to the obstruction of aid access" by the Ethiopian government, according to Biden administration officials.