By late October, U.S. gun homicides in 2020 had exceeded the year-end total for each of the past four years, according to the Gun Violence Archive, The Trace reports. The count does not include suicides, which account for most gun deaths. Other types of crime such as burglary, larceny, and drug offenses declined. Mass shootings showed a particularly steep increase. In spite of social isolation imposed by the pandemic, the number of shootings with four or more victims exceeded any recent year by more than 50 percent. Children below the age of 18 were shot and killed in greater numbers this year as well. In New York City, a rash of child shootings pushed the homicide numbers above 400 for the first time since 2012. The number of fatal accidental shootings also surged. Gun Violence Archive has recorded more than 600 in 2020.
Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, who researches violence prevention at the University of California, Davis, said the year’s record gun sales may have played a role. An estimated 55,000 gun owners in California started keeping weapons loaded and unlocked in response to the pandemic. In some communities, violence was already soaring when the pandemic prompted lockdowns. Philadelphia, Houston, and Memphis tallied 10 percent more homicides between January and March than in the same 2019 period. In Milwaukee, killings doubled. The pandemic snuffed out “just about every positive source of social connection or mental health outlet available to these communities most at risk for gun violence,” said Lisa Fujie Parks of the Prevention Institute. In some cities, violence has overtaken the pandemic as the chief concern. Ricky Vasquez, a Republican precinct chairman in Fort Worth, said that, since a mass shooting in May, residents in his neighborhood haven’t felt safe walking to the store. Their fear is driven less by the risk of contracting coronavirus than the likelihood they’ll be shot.