Tuesday, June 15, 2021

More on Guns and Homicides

Yesterday, the same day that I posted about homicides and guns, the Washington Post ran a story on gun violence and deaths nationwide. I didn't see it until today, when it was reprinted in the Star Tribune. It reinforced what I found in our local numbers, with more emphasis on the trauma of the past 18 months.

Experts have attributed the increase to a variety of new and long-standing issues — including entrenched inequality, soaring gun ownership, and fraying relations between police and the communities they serve — all intensified during the coronavirus pandemic and widespread uprisings for racial justice....

Gunfire deaths began to rise in April 2020, when covid-19 shut down much of the country, in-person schooling was paused and more than 20 million people lost their jobs. Gun violence — like the coronavirus — takes an unequal toll on communities of color. So as the pandemic took hold, it was one crisis on top of another.

“What we have is compounded trauma,” said Shani Buggs, an assistant professor with the University of California at Davis’s Violence Prevention Research Program. “The pandemic exacerbated all of the inequities we had in our country — along racial lines, health lines, social lines, economic lines. All of the drivers of gun violence pre-pandemic were just worsened last year.”

In terms of the effect of gun sales,

Controlling for population, the analysis found the higher the jump in gun sales between 2019 and 2020, the higher the jump in gun violence that resulted in at least one death.

A large body of research shows gun availability increases the relative risk of fatal shootings, and ... a study last year ... found an association between firearm purchases that spring and a statistically significant increase in firearm violence.

Others have noted that millions of guns were sold in past decades, when crime rates were falling, and have said one year of data is not enough to settle the matter.

That last point is something I did notice in looking at our local statistics (assuming our local sales numbers were paralleling the national sales trends). Our two cities' homicides had been historically low for a decade and a half, despite the number of guns in circulation, until a fairly abrupt upswing in 2019.

The Post story included this tidbit:

Early numbers indicate a large slice of 2020 gun buyers — about a fifth — purchased their first-ever firearm.

Which fits with the 5 million number for first-time buyers I mentioned yesterday. So that could be part of the increase, as I said.

Spend some time with this complex graphic from the Post, which compares gun sales per 1,000 people between 2015 and 2020 to gun deaths per million in the same time period by state:

(Click to enlarge for better reading!)

Notice how the numerical label of the Y axis for each state varies, with states like Alabama, Missouri or Tennessee at 150, while Iowa, Massachusetts and New York are at 30, and California and Nebraska are at 40.

Minnesota's Y axis is 80, and that's because of a big recent upswing in gun sales. And we clearly show the pattern of a sharp sales increase accompanying a rise in gun deaths per million (though at a lower angle on the chart).

As I suspected yesterday,

The Post found the number of fatal shootings the Gun Violence Archive classified as some type of accident increased by more than 40 percent from 2019 to 2020. The number of deadly incidents involving children — who may get guns from adults who do not store them properly — also rose by 45 percent... The analysis does not include suicides because real-time data is unavailable, but researchers have noted worrying signs that gun-related suicides, along with intimate-partner violence and family violence, are also on the rise.

And then there's ground-floor youth violence prevention, which has been greatly hampered by the pandemic. A program manager for a Sacramento program said,

“The pandemic really limited us in doing the very things that make the program successful.... I don’t think people know what it means to take a young person out of the environment where they’re impacted by trauma on a daily basis, to exhale, to take a look around and not feel threatened by their very environment.”

[He] has seen more anger in his city since the onset of the pandemic, more people looking to settle arguments with deadly weapons, more despair. Homicides in Sacramento rose by 26 percent from 2019 to 2020...

I think that's a significant factor in the increase in shootings in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, too, on top of the stress of living in the current marquee location where young men know every moment that they're unequal and could be treated as less than human at the whim of any cop or even an average white guy who says he "felt threatened." With the availability of guns, things that could have been settled less fatally get settled with bullets, and bystanders suffer from it too.

It's a complex problem and the only clear part of it is that "more police" will not solve it.

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