How 2020 Became the Deadliest Year for Mass Shootings Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
By: Cassandra Denning and Kimberly Roman
The pain and misery involving the pandemic in 2020 was not only affecting our health; but, may have escalated the progression of gun violence that generated the most mass shootings and gun fatalities in our nation’s history.
The Capitol Riot, with one Capitol Officer dead, is just one example of how anger and weapons united a gathering to commit explosive violence.
Tensions ran higher than ever as unemployment increased, death by virus hit almost every home, and societal cruelty was exposed. These uncertain times created a demand for self-protection, which skyrocketed the purchases of firearms.
Unfortunately, an increase in the demand for firearms went largely unnoticed by distracted Americans throughout 2020. Fears of getting trapped in a mass shooting diminished while the panic of getting infected surged.
In March 2020, the Department of Homeland Security deemed gun stores essential businesses, issuing an advisory to states. On April 10, 2020, the administration issued a new rule allowing federally licensed firearm dealers to provide curbside service and sell guns through drive-throughs.
Thousands of residents across the country decided instead of stockpiling toilet paper and Clorox wipes, they would wait in lines for ammunition and weapons. Many believed if the rules of society collapsed, firearms were the answer for their protection.
Gun Sales reached a peak of nearly 1.4 million in March 2020, according to the Brookings Institution’s study. The study concluded that the rise in gun sales is inevitable during states of emergency.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 612 mass shootings and 510 victims murdered in 2020, which is the highest increase on record from the year before.
Due to the breakdown in society and the pandemic wreaking havoc across every portion of our nation, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran more firearm background checks than at any other time in our history. The NICS ran a total of 39.6 million firearm background checks in 2020, which was 11.3 million more than 2019.
These firearm background checks make up only one tenth of the firearms American civilians actually possess. Although these figures are not indicative of the actual number of firearms purchased or in circulation, it does represent Americans’ rising demand for self-protection amid a period of fear and anguish.
Further, it is estimated by the Small Arms Survey that Americans possess 46% of the entire world’s firearms. Only a small fraction of these guns are registered. These unaccounted-for weapons could be in the hands of anyone – even someone with an alarming criminal record.
Despite the fact that the numbers of mass shootings and mass shooting victims were higher than ever in 2020, the media headlines about these tragedies decreased. The news shifted from reporting on mass violence to the growing spread of COVID-19.
The House recently passed legislation with new funding for suicide and domestic violence prevention, but the bill did not include additional funds for frontline violence prevention workers or public education “panic-buying” during the pandemic or loopholes in the gun background check system.
Currently the Department of Justice and its Federal partner, The Department of Homeland Security, developed an approach to prevent acts of targeted violence before they occur and are requesting a budget to support threat mitigation in 2021.
This includes the efforts by DHS to engage with local communities to build awareness and intervene before mass violence occurs. The focus of this prevention is on investigation, deterrence, and prosecution of individuals initiating the violence.
The Department is also expanding its “Disruption and Early Engagement Program” (DEEP) to assess the threat posed, develop options to divert or disrupt violence, and identify individual threats.
The DEEP team includes a unit of clinical psychologists, threat assessment professionals and community groups where such resources are helpful to develop innovative approaches to assess, mitigate, and deter threats of violence.
Hopefully in the year 2021, vaccines rolling out, society slowly turning the curve back to a “new normal,” and the government’s implementation of new programs to mitigate gun violence will allow residents to feel more comfortable and less likely to purchase a weapon.
Gun Violence Archive: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/
Small Arms Survey: http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/weapons-and-markets/tools/global-firearms-holdings.html
Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/07/13/three-million-more-guns-the-spring-2020-spike-in-firearm-sales/
Gun Violence Grows During Coronavirus Pandemic Group’s Data Shows: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/blog/meet-press-blog-latest-news-analysis-data-driving-political-discussion-n988541/ncrd1223551#blogHeader
U.S. Department of Justice FY 2021 Budget Request Countering Mass Violence: https://www.justice.gov/file/1246131/download