“We have two things together: the trauma of the past two years and the mental health crisis that has resulted from this pandemic,” Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles said earlier this year at an event to discuss criminality. “These things made us see more violence.”
Christopher Herrmann, an assistant professor in the department of law and police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said he was not surprised by the CDC’s analysis but worried what it might bode well for next summer, when there are generally more gun homicides.
“June, July and August are always the deadliest months,” he said, adding that most major US cities saw increases of around 30% in shootings and homicides in the summer.
Federal officials and outside experts were unsure of the cause of the increase in gun deaths.
“One possible explanation is stressors associated with the Covid pandemic that may have played a role, including changes and disruption in services and education, social isolation, housing instability and difficulty in cover day-to-day expenses,” said Thomas R. Simon, associate director for science in the CDC’s Violence Prevention Division.
The rise also corresponded to an acceleration in gun sales as the pandemic spread and lockdowns became the norm, the CDC analysis noted. Americans embarked on a gun-buying spree in 2020 that continued into 2021, when in a single week the FBI reported a record 1.2 million background checks.
The number one reason people give for buying a handgun is self-protection. But research published in the 1990s established that simply having a gun in the home increases the risk of firearm homicide threefold and increases the risk of suicide fivefold.
Today, gun buying is largely back to pre-pandemic levels, but there are still about 15 million more guns in circulation than there would be without the pandemic, according to Garen J. Wintemute, a researcher on gun violence at the University of California at Davis.