Rates of gun violence in the United States surged by almost a third during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study published Thursday in Scientific Reports, part of a wider uptick in violent crime that experts believe may be linked to a rise in gun sales and the stresses and pressures associated with lockdown and other infection control measures.
The rate of gun violence in the U.S. was 30% higher during the Covid-19 pandemic than the year before, according to the peer-reviewed analysis of daily police reports relating to gun-related injuries and deaths from all 50 states and the District of Columbia from February 2019 through March 2021.
The researchers identified around 51,000 incidents of gun violence across the U.S. during the 13-month period of the pandemic studied (March 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021), up from nearly 39,000 during the preceding 13-month period.
According to the reports, these incidents comprised around 25,000 gun-related deaths and over 43,000 injuries, respectively up from around 17,000 and 32,000 the previous 13 months.
The risk of gun violence was significantly higher in 27 states and the District of Columbia during the pandemic than the preceding year, the researchers said, with just one state—Alaska—showing a reduced risk of gun violence during the pandemic.
In the other 22 states, the researchers found no statistically significant change to the rate of gun violence during the pandemic.
The researchers suggested the psychological and economic stresses of the pandemic, alongside soaring firearm sales, could be responsible for the violent uptick, calling for officials to be aware of the “unintended social and economic” stresses of measures like stay-at-home orders and social distancing.
The Complete List
The following 27 states, plus the District of Columbia, had higher rates of gun violence during the pandemic than the preceding 13 months, according to the research: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.
What We Don’t Know
Part of the surge in gun violence could be down to an increase in firearm-related suicides, the researchers suggested, pointing to increasing reports of depression and mental illness during the pandemic. However, it’s not possible to determine whether recent incidents are down to homicide or suicide using police reports, the researchers noted, owing to the fact that the cause of death is often still under investigation when reports are filed.
“Gun violence is a frequently ignored public health epidemic,” the researchers said, adding that the surge in violence during the pandemic should “come as a stark reminder that we cannot afford to ignore it any longer.” Unlike Covid-19, which is of low risk to children and young adults, the researchers said the threat of gun violence is a much more “significant concern” to these groups. The researchers’ rhetoric echoes that of the country’s leading public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has historically sidestepped the issue of gun violence due to political pressure and lobbying. More recently, Director Rochelle Walensky is breaking the agency’s decades-long silence, describing gun violence as a “serious public health threat” in an interview with CNN.
Last year was one of the deadliest in decades, with violent crime rising for the first time in four years. While murders, manslaughter and assaults spiked, other types of violent crime—including rape, robbery, burglary and larceny—dropped, as did crime overall. Experts have suggested increased civil unrest, interrupted court and police operations and deepening inequalities as possible contributing factors, as well as the stresses of the pandemic and disruption of support networks. Gun sales soared during the pandemic, nearly 23 million were sold during 2020, up two thirds from the year before. The numbers have dropped this year, though remain well above pre-pandemic levels, and researchers are divided on whether the surge is responsible for the increase in violence.