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COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The structure of daily life for most individuals in the United States (US) has changed dramatically. Businesses, schools, and entire industries have been forced to substitute in-person activities for remote/virtual replacements in compliance with recommendations of social distancing from the CDC. This practice has decreased the COVID-19 transmission and is essential to the eventual resolution of this pandemic [
]. We aim to investigate the trends of gun related violence in selected heavily populated US cities during the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss the implications.
We performed a cross-sectional analysis to investigate gun violence in New York City (NY), Chicago, Baltimore and Los Angeles since the beginning of the 2020. Data was gathered from the Police Departments (PDs) of each city and from the FBI. Trends were determined by comparing gun related incidents/victims/deaths where applicable to 2018 and 2019 to determine what effect, if any, COVID-19 has had on gun violence.
According to the NYPD, as of April 4 there has been 172 shooting incidents which represent an 11.7% increase compared to 2019 and an 18.6% increase compared to 2018 [
For the heavily populated cities of NY, Chicago and Baltimore, there is a paradoxical trend of increased gun related violence in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We offer several possible explanations.
According to a report from the US Department of Labor, there has been a surge in number of unemployment claims during the pandemic [
]. Many companies are being forced to layoff workers in order to prevent financial bankruptcy, while other industries, such as restaurants and entertainment, are simply not open for business. Maryland has received 298,610 unemployment claims which represents 9.1% of the state's labor force since March 14, New York State 1,186,994 unemployment claims (12.4% of its' labor force), and Illinois 634,625 unemployment claims (9.9% of its' labor force) [
]. With an increasing number of people unemployed, it is possible that the chances of becoming involved in a gun related incident correlates with the amount of time spent outside of the workplace. Another explanation is that as people with low socioeconomic status become unemployed and experience tremendous financial stress, they may resort to robbery for income, which is reflected in the increased robbery rates in NY (22.4%) and Chicago (10%) compared to 2019.
Another possible explanation for the increased gun violence is the increased sale and consumption of alcohol during this time period. Previous studies have shown that alcohol increases risk-taking behavior and probability of being in an altercation, and committing violent crimes [
]. A larger amount of guns may increase the chance of shootings just by mere prevalence of more guns being present in society and can serve as a contributing factor to the increased rates of gun violence.
The main limitation in this analysis is that we only analyzed the trends in gun violence during the January–April 2020 period. This analysis does not capture the trends during the entire pandemic, which is still playing out, however this research can serve as an important observation and a call for further studies, and an opportunity to create longitudinal interventions to reduce violence. Additionally reliable data earlier than 2018 was not available for every city evaluated and data for Baltimore in 2018 was also unavailable which prevents analysis of longitudinal trends.
The implications of this data are that social distancing and stay-at-home orders may not decrease the rates of gun violence; in fact, the coronavirus pandemic is associated with increased rates. While multiple factors likely influence the rising number of gun incidents, unemployment, increased alcohol consumption, and increased firearm purchases are possible contributing factors. We recommend more thorough data collection and investigation as to what factors are most heavily influencing the higher rates of gun incidents in order to innovate long-term solutions to decrease gun related injuries/deaths across the United States and contribute to a safer, healthier society after the resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Declaration of competing interest
Authors declare no competing interests.
Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic: staying home save lives.