Going for their guns: the surge in the US murder rate
Last year saw the largest recorded increase in homicides in US history - but why?
“Get ready for a bloody summer,” said Rachel M. Cohen on The Daily Beast. With American life “kicking back into high gear” as the pandemic subsides, the nation’s mayors and police officials are “bracing for the worst”.
Murder and gun violence surged during the pandemic and show no sign of abating. Last year saw the largest recorded increase in homicides in US history. Murders jumped by 30% in 34 cities compared to 2019, and the provisional figures for 2021 show a further increase. Rural areas have also seen many more shooting deaths.
Why? There is no single explanation, but they believe one major factor is the spike in gun sales fuelled by fears over the pandemic and civil unrest. Gun sales (as measured by federal background checks) exceeded a million per week for the first time last spring, said Sabrina Tavernise in The New York Times. According to the latest data, 39% of US households now own guns, up from 32% in 2016.
Let’s keep things in perspective, said Matt Ford in The New Republic. The 462 murders in New York City in 2020 were up from 319 in 2019, but still far below the city’s record of 2,245 murders in 1990, when the city had one million fewer residents. This pattern holds nationwide: violent crime is ticking up, but we still have “a long way to go before returning to the bad old days” of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Right-wingers have, inevitably, tried to blame the spike on the Defund the Police movement; but the homicide surge has occurred across the nation, not just in the few liberal cities that did divert some of their police budgets to mental-health and crime-prevention schemes. How can we “blame a rise in homicides on defunding the police when the police weren’t actually defunded”?
Statistics can’t prove causation, said Andrew Sullivan on Substack, but it’s “one hell of a correlation” that homicides really took off after the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. That’s when police were demonised in nationwide protests as racist murderers, and cops started retiring in droves and “pulling back from the kind of aggressive, proactive policing” that prevents violent crime.
The good news is that the number of unarmed black men shot dead by police – 17 in 2020, 11 in 2019 – is down to four so far this year. But what if the cost of that reduction is “a huge increase in the numbers of innocent black lives lost to civilian murder”?