Sep 22, 2021 - News

Denver's gun-related injuries spiked in 2020, reflecting U.S. trend

A photo of numerous brass bullets in a bin

Firearm bullets. Photo: Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images

Trauma cases from gunshot injuries rose sharply last year in Denver, mirroring a national trend, hospital officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: The findings reinforce data showing a surge in gun violence throughout the city.

Three big factors are likely fueling the troublesome trend, health and public safety experts say:

  1. The pandemic has had a negative impact on many people’s social lives and economic stability.
  2. The initial surge coincided with last summer's protests against racism and police brutality. Many in law enforcement point to changes in policing following the demonstrations, including a pullback in patrolling amid declining public trust. This created an environment where shooters may feel more emboldened, writes Axios Future’s Bryan Walsh.
  3. Gun sales in Colorado have soared throughout the pandemic. Nationwide, firearms background checks spiked in spring 2020 and haven't come down.

State of play: Denver Health averaged a 53% spike in gunshot wound cases relative to the past five years and a 38% increase compared with 2019 levels, Ryan Lawless, the hospital’s trauma medical director, tells Axios.

  • Stabbings have also swelled since the start of the pandemic, he adds.
  • Black and Latino residents from low-income households have been particularly impacted by the violence.
  • Shooting and stabbing cases remain well above normal levels this year.

What they’re saying: "It takes a toll on the providers to see these cases come in," Lawless says. "But what can we do? Because it’s not going away — at least from what I can see."

Data: Epic Health Research Network; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Epic Health Research Network; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom out: Across the U.S., health care visits for gunshot wounds spiked late last spring and peaked last October, according to a new study from the Epic Health Research Network.

  • Firearm injury rates surged again this spring, with June 2021 levels 64% higher than in 2019.

The big picture: "If a pandemic happens again, we have to avoid what happened this time," Lawless says. "We have to figure out this gun safety."


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