Lois Beckett and Abené Clayton, The Guardian, March 24, 2021
For exactly a year during the pandemic, the United States did not see a single high-profile public mass shooting. But a surge in daily gun violence contributed to an estimated 4,000 additional murders throughout 2020, in what experts warn will probably be the worst single-year increase in murders on record.
There were only two public shootings in 2020 that primarily targeted strangers, were not related to other crimes and killed at least four victims – one standard definition researchers use to classify “mass shootings” – according to two databases that track this kind of gun violence. That’s the lowest annual count of high-profile mass shootings in America in nearly a quarter-century, according to Jillian Peterson, the founder of the Violence Project, which tracks these mass shootings going back to 1966.
At the same time, the number of people murdered in everyday violence last year surged in cities large and small. Early estimates suggest the US may have seen at least 4,000 more murders last year than in 2019, and potentially as many as 5,000 more, according to projections based on FBI data, though complete official statistics will not be available until the fall. The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings in real time using media reports, recorded nearly 4,000 more gun homicides in 2020 compared with 2019, according to founder Mark Bryant.
In response to two high-profile mass shootings in the past week, one targeting shoppers at a grocery store in Colorado and another Asian women at spas in Georgia, Joe Biden called on lawmakers to pass a renewed ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and to expand background checks on gun sales, part of a renewed national debate over strengthening gun control laws.
But in Philadelphia, where the number of gun homicides was 40% higher in 2020 than it was in 2019 and with at least 103 people killed so far this year, Pastor Carl Day said an assault-weapon ban would not do much for the communities most burdened by gun violence.
Organizers are calling on the Biden administration to make a historic $5bn investment in inner-city gun violence reduction, focused on Black and brown communities. The money would be disbursed over eight years and go toward existing groups that work in the most hard-hit communities, helping to ensure that mentorship and intervention initiatives can start restart in-person programs that were disrupted during the pandemic.
The number of all murders rose 25% across the country in 2020, with double-digit increases in small, medium and large cities, according to preliminary data from a large subset of law enforcement agencies that the FBI released last week.
A 25% increase in murders nationwide for 2020 would mean an estimated 4,100 additional murders last year, compared with 2019, according to Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based crime data analyst. At least three-quarters of those murders, and perhaps more, are likely to be gun murders, based on trends from previous years, Asher said.
That would be the highest single-year increase, both in the murder rate and in the total number of additional murders, going back to 1960, the earliest year national crime data is available, Asher said.
The FBI’s preliminary 2020 data does not yet include some of the cities that saw the worst increases in murder last year, including Chicago, New Orleans and New York, Asher said, which might mean that total murders could rise more than 25%.
“If there’s a 30% increase, which I think is very plausible, that would be 5,000 additional people murdered,” he said.
“The thing that stands out about last year’s change in murders is that it was everywhere. Chicago and New York and the traditional places get the headlines, but Omaha, Nebraska; Lubbock, Texas; Shreveport, Louisiana: all of these towns saw huge increases in murder.”