In Depth

Why gun violence has soared in US cities

Coronavirus frustration, firearms sales increases and George Floyd protests among reasons for hike

As the US continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, many American cities are also facing another major threat - a surge in violent crime.

According to new data from the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) think tank, recorded rates of aggravated assault and gun assault have rocketed in recent months. And “from May to June 2020, homicides in 20 major US cities increased by 37%” year-on-year, reports CNN.

Gun crime, in particular, has proved a major scourge across the country: according to NBC New York, shooting incidents in the city over the past four weeks have been nearly three times higher than during the same period last year.

What do the official figures say?

At the start of August, The Wall Street Journal published an analysis of crime statistics for the nation’s 50 largest cities which found that reported homicides had risen by 24% year-on-year to 3,612. Although levels of violent crimes such as robbery declined, the data showed significant rise in shootings and gun violence.

Yesterday morning, Chicago Police announced that nearly 30 people had been shot and three people killed in the city over the weekend, reports CNN. In New York City, more than 40 people were shot in a 48-hour period.

And in the Ohio city of Cincinnati, at least 18 people were shot - four fatally - on Saturday night alone, according to Reuters. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley condemned the “senseless gun violence that ruined lives and will cause immeasurable suffering” at a time when citizens are already facing “unprecedented circumstances and challenges”.

Cranley “said the city had seen an uptick in cases as people gather in private homes and public places when the bars close”, the news agency reports.

“Guns are far too prevalent at these gatherings. Please do not attend gatherings because you could end up as an innocent victim,” he added.

What’s driving this upward trend?

“Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, and Dermot Shea, New York City police commissioner, have blamed multiple reasons for the rise in violence, including court delays, gang crime and frustration after the coronavirus lockdown,” reports The Times

Vox agrees that it has been “a very unusual year with the coronavirus pandemic”, which “makes it difficult to say what, exactly, is happening with crime rates”.

“The current year, 2020, is an extreme deviation from baseline - extreme,” Tracey Meares, founding director at the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School, told the news and opinion site.

But what is clear is that the increases in violent crime coincide with the “end of pandemic-related shutdowns, mass unemployment due to the pandemic, protests condemning police violence against black people, and the summer, when crime annually increases”, adds CNN.

Vox says that the nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May “could’ve had a range of effects, from officers pulling back from their duties to greater community distrust in police, leading to more unchecked violence”.

Experts have also cited “a huge increase in gun purchases this year”, the site continues. “Still others posit boredom and social displacement as a result of physical distancing leading people to cause more trouble.” 

But regardless of the exact reasons, the seeming link to coronavirus “offers a bit of good news: it’s possible that the end of the pandemic will come and homicide rates will fall again”.

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