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How two “compounding public health crises” sent gun crimes surging

▶ Watch Video: Advocacy group releases report on U.S. gun trafficking and spike in gun violence

A record number of gun sales along with the disruption to normal life by the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to a 25% surge in homicides and non-suicide-related shootings in 2020, according to a gun control advocacy group.

“What we know is the year will be remembered for two conflicting, compounding public health crises — COVID-19 and gun violence,” said Nick Suplina, the managing director for law and policy of Everytown for Gun Safety.

A new report from the group found there were nearly 4,000 more firearm deaths and more than 9,000 firearm-related injuries in 2020 than 2019. 

Speaking to CBSN on Monday, Suplina said the pandemic “exacerbated so many of the causes of gun violence.”

“Stress levels were high, opportunities for employment were lower,” he said.

The pandemic’s economic impact on gun violence was particularly felt in Black communities because, according to Everytown’s findings, “they are overrepresented in jobs that cannot be done remotely—jobs that needed to be cut as the pandemic worsened.”

“This kind of economic distress has a significant bearing on all forms of gun violence, as research shows that neighborhoods with high unemployment or high poverty rates have higher rates of gun homicide,” the group states.

Suplina also added that spikes in gun violence are common over the summer months, when the academic year is over — which last year was also severely affected by COVID-19

“School was out months early this year. Summer youth employment was down. So we saw a number of the factors that typically contribute to increases in gun violence over a much longer period of time.”

He added that 2020 also saw “record increases in gun sales.”

An estimated 22 million guns were purchased in 2020 — a 64% increase over the previous year, according to Everytown’s report.

“We know that some of those sales are stretching our background check system thin. Many of them are not undergoing a background check at all,” Suplina said. 

Those guns are also crossing state lines. After studying five years of data trends involving guns used in crimes, one troubling conclusion of the group’s report is nearly one-third of traced guns brought across state lines was used in a crime. 

Three-quarters of the firearms that came from other states were from states that do not require background checks on all gun sales. 

With more guns being purchased and trafficked than ever, Suplina is calling for a nationwide mandate on background checks, “so that gun traffickers and criminals don’t go shopping across state lines.”

“We know that action needs to happen at the federal level — I think Democrats and Republicans in the Senate understand that too,” Suplina said. “We believe that there are negotiations occurring in Congress, that are occurring in good faith.”

“Not only is it popular, but it is critically necessary.” 

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