One Good Thing From the Pandemic: Mass Shootings in U.S. Plunge

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Forcing people in the U.S. to shelter at home during the coronavirus outbreak may have resulted in less death from Covid-19 infections but also fewer victims of mass shootings.

The number of mass shootings in the U.S. plunged 24% in April from a year earlier as churches, malls, restaurants, schools and parks were shuttered and most businesses closed, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of data from an organization that tracks information about firearm-related violence. The decline occurred despite a spike in gun sales that month.

The number of mass shooting incidents, killings and firearm injuries all dropped as states and cities took aggressive measures to contain the virus. There were 25 mass shootings in April this year, with 22 dead and 89 wounded. In the same month last year, there were 33 shootings, 25 deaths and 130 injuries. The number of deaths in April was the lowest for the month since 2015, according to Gun Violence Archive, which began keeping track of such incidents in 2013. The organization defines mass shootings as incidents where four or more people are shot during a single event, not including the shooter.

“It took a pandemic and it took people being completely disrupted and forced to sit home all day and not go outside – and be terrified of going outside – to see a drop in mass shootings,” said Kyleanne Hunter, vice president of programs for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and a former Marine who served as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I can think all of us can agree that this is no way we want to continue to live our lives.’’

The decline in April was a sharp reversal from March when the shutdowns were just starting to take effect nationwide. The number of shootings, deaths and injuries all increased that month, when compared to a year earlier – with the number of people killed more than doubling and the number of injuries rising more than 26%.

The March numbers reflect the nationwide trend until the near complete shutdown took effect in April. The number of mass shootings in 2020 — 417 — was approaching those of last year, which saw the highest annual tally since Gun Violence Archive began keeping track of such incidents.

The pandemic has also spurred the sales of guns. Gun sales are estimated to have risen more than 71% in April from the same period a year earlier, after surging more than 85% in March, according to an analysis at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System done by Small Arms Analytics. Gun sales aren’t tracked in the U.S., but the FBI system is largely considered a proxy for sales by the firearms industry.

“These guns aren’t going away when people go back out into the world,’’ Hunter said.

Through April, there were 96 mass shootings this year, with 106 people killed. The number of shootings and deaths is down only slightly from the same period in 2019, when 118 people were killed in 100 events, but injuries this year were the highest since 2017.

The deadliest shooting in the first four months of last year occurred in February in Aurora, Illinois, when an employee of the Henry Pratt Co. took out a gun and started shooting during a termination meeting, killing six and wounding six others.

In late February of this year, before measures to combat the virus started to kick in, a worker at the Molson Coors brewery in Milwaukee shot and killed five people and then turned the gun on himself.

The deadliest incident of the year so far occurred March 15, a day after North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order to stop mass gatherings, when a man shot and killed six family members before turning the gun on himself in a rural town southwest of Raleigh. And in late April, five people were found dead in a home in Milwaukee after a man called police to say he had just “massacred” his entire family with a shotgun.

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