Monday, June 14, 2021

Homicides, Guns

You'd have to be living under one of those clichéd rocks to not know that homicides are up in cities across the U.S. If you only hear headlines, you might think it's solely in "blue" states, but that's not true: it's pretty much true in cities in red and blue states, states with Republican governors and cities with Republican mayors, as well as those led by Democrats. The pandemic is probably a major factor, as it is in the increase in driving-related deaths, but the increase in guns on the street is also part of it.

I know more about our local homicide stats than I do other places, of course. We were already seeing an increase in homicides in 2019, before the pandemic, but 2020 brought Saint Paul to a tie with its all-time record number and almost doubled Minneapolis's number, which also approached record-breaking territory.

Homicides per year in Minneapolis and Saint Paul since 2015

YearMinneapolisSaint Paul

Remember, the population of Minneapolis is roughly 420,000 while Saint Paul's is roughly 300,000, which means Saint Paul has about 70% of Minneapolis's population. So you can see the number of homicides in Saint Paul is proportionally lower, usually under 50% as high per 100,000.

It's pretty clear that the number of guns on the street is directly related to these deaths. Here are the national gun sales numbers in reverse chronological order since the year before Obama was elected. If anything, it's amazing the numbers didn't go up (at least in Saint Paul) sooner.

  • 2021: The first 4 months are up 31% from 2020, which would annualize to 22m, if sales keep up.
  • 2020: 17m (election year - about a 30% increase over 2019)
  • 2019: 13m
  • 2018: 13m
  • 2017: 14m
  • 2016: 16m (election year)
  • 2015: 14m
  • 2014: 13m (Eric Garner and Michael Brown killed, Black Lives Matter movement takes off mid-year)
  • 2013: 15m (Obama's second term begins)
  • 2012: 14m (election year)
  • 2011: 11m
  • 2010: 9m
  • 2009: 10m (Obama takes office)
  • 2008: 9m (election year)
  • 2007: 8m (pretty flat back to '00 before that, 7m in '00)

(Here's that data in chart form)

For the year 2020, Minnesota is 11th on the state list of number of guns sold. (That's well above our place on the list of states by population.) I wonder if our higher rate of sales has always ran on the high end of the national increase year by year, or if this higher rate of sales has been more recent?

I had been assuming that the vast majority of these purchases were from increased stockpiling by the same 30-some percent of people who already own guns, rather than from new purchasers. However, 5 million are reported to be first-time gun buyers, with sales to women up 40% year-over-year in September 2020 (source). Increases in the number of these new gun buyers seem likely to lead to more incidents like these (a road rage case where a father shot his own 9-year-son, or the recent east metro shooting where a man killed his stepson while "protecting" him from a driveby shooting), plus what I assume will be an increase in suicides, since access to guns makes their completion more likely.

And mixed into all of those sales are straw buyers like the one described in a recent Star Tribune story. This 33-year-old woman legally bought almost 50 guns over a year from a variety of gun shops, making about $100 per purchase (while living out of her car after losing her apartment in March 2020). After passing background checks, she would then sell them to another person who would resell them to people who couldn't legally buy guns or didn't want to be on record as a purchaser. Most likely these were not "good guys with guns" and, notably, this type of purchase is illegal.

By the end of May, at least three of the guns she had resold had been confiscated by police in connection with shooting investigations. An assistant U.S. Attorney is quoted in the story as saying, "These are the guns that are making it out onto the streets, and they're killing people."

It doesn't seem like it would be that hard to stop that kind of straw purchasing, but of course that would take cooperation from Republicans in state legislatures so the purchases across those different shops by the same person were being tracked, and that seems doubtful. Legislation to that effect in Maryland worked, though, according to the Star Tribune story. 

So let's try it, what do you say?

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