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Experts Explain Why 2020 Was The Deadliest Year For Gun Violence — And 2021 Is Trending Even Worse

Photo: H. Kalkan / Shutterstock 
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The global pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. Some have taken it in stride, while others are having a much tougher time dealing with the isolation and stress it causes.

When the lockdown occurred last March, you would think that violent crimes and gun violence would go down because no one was going outside — well, you’d think wrong.

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According to an analysis done by The Washington Post — using data from the Gun Violence Archive — 2020 was actually the deadliest year of gun violence in at least two decades.

2021 is shaping up to be the worst year for gun violence.

“Through the first five months of 2021, gunfire killed more than 8,100 people in the United States, about 54 lives lost per day. That’s 14 more deaths per day than the average toll during the same period of the previous six years.”

The rise in the past two years is attributed to many long-standing issues like racial inequality and police brutality —  but there are also a lot of newer issues coming to the forefront. Gun ownership has seen a massive increase within the last couple years, not to mention the effect a global pandemic does to one’s mental health.

If you think the numbers for the first five months are scary, it only gets worse.

Gun violence over the years always spikes during the summer. Last summer, gun deaths averaged around 58 cases per day. That’s 4 higher than the first five months of this year, meaning that this summer will spike even higher, making leaders across the country more than a little nervous.

“I’m scared to death of the summer, I’ll be real honest,” said Mark Bryant, the Gun Violence Archive’s founder. “I expect this to be a record year.”

After a violent weekend in Miami, the city’s police chief, Art Acevedo, spoke on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

“Unless we all start speaking up,” he said, “speaking out and demanding our elected officials take action, we’re going to see a lot more bloodshed."

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In some of the largest cities in the country, homicides have seen a 30 percent increase over the last year. But the numbers are increasing in suburban and rural areas as well.

In 2020, people purchased more than 23 million guns, a 66 percent increase over 2019 sales, according to an analysis of federal data on gun background checks — about a fifth of these purchases were first-timers.

“It is times like these that engender fear and anxiety regarding safety,” YourTango expert Parthenia Izzard weighs in. “People are fed daily news about crime being on an uptick, that ‘we are more divided politically than ever,’ that people are angry with each other. Resultantly, people feel the need to protect themselves and their families from neighbors, family, and others.”

Gun deaths correlated with the increase in purchases as well, with only a handful of states maintaining a flat trend of deaths.

This could be largely due to the fact that because of all the shutdowns and fear, there’s a huge lack in firearm safety training and a lot of these buyers don’t have the experience required to handle guns carefully.

Are the study findings really something to be afraid of?

“We have a lot to learn from the data coming out and understanding it through a public health lens versus a law and order lens,” says YourTango expert Nichole Moorman

“I think the bottom line for why more people are buying guns is fear,” she says, “fear of lawlessness, fear of losing the right to firearms, wanting a way to survive and protect in a worst case scenario, not wanting to be behind the curve.”

The pandemic can definitely feel like a worst-case scenario for a lot of people who are suffering and struggling just to survive and living in fear, as well as for those who strive being outside and around other people.

“The pandemic has forced us all to feel and face vulnerability whether we want to or not,” Moorman says, “and this is a space ripe for reactivity and a range of responses from taking up meditation, opening up in relationships, learning about social justice issues, to blaming and even escalating to violence.”

The civil unrest in this country is a massive trigger for uncertainty and vulnerability. On one hand, minorities are scared of law enforcement and fear that their government doesn’t have their backs. On the other hand, those who aren’t affected fear that they may be affected by the protests and backlash.

The lack of being outside is also having an adverse effect on violence inside of homes.

Domestic violence is also on the rise, and the global pandemic is mainly to blame.

“Before the pandemic started people had mechanisms in place that ‘lowered the temperature,’” says Izzard, “during heated discussions or arguments. For some, those mechanisms included removing oneself from the situation or premises, which is not as much of an option during a pandemic.”

According to a study done by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ) this February, domestic violence incidents increased by 8.1% since lockdowns began.

Alex Piquero, chair of the University of Miami Department of Sociology and lead author of the analysis, told CNN "In my mind, I think that 8% is a floor and not a ceiling. I think the problem is actually worse than we actually know right now." There are — or were, at the height of the pandemic — likely a lot of incidents that don’t get reported. People felt trapped, like they couldn't leave during lockdown, when they may have before. 

“The pandemic has been like a stress test for society and for individual communities,” says Moorman. Everyone is trying to figure their way out of a once-in-a-lifetime worst case scenario, and unfortunately that means a lot of people will react negatively.

If the trends and analysts are correct, this is going to be a very tough summer and everyone should be on high alert.

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice and relationships.