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NYT Maps Gun Violence Since Start Of Pandemic

The number of people living close to fatal violence grew dramatically during the pandemic years, according to a New York Times report based on a new map of every gun homicide in the United States since 2020.

The Times created the map using data collected from the police and news media accounts by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. For every block where Americans resided, The Times then drew a quarter-mile circle to determine how many people lived in close proximity to the killings.

An analysis of the data shows that the surge during the pandemic not only worsened gun violence in neighborhoods that were already suffering, but also spread into new places.

“There are a lot more guns on the street and when people get angry and frustrated, instead of getting into a fistfight, they get into a gun fight,” said Dr. Regan Williams, an emergency room director at a Memphis children’s hospital who has seen a spike in young shooting victims. Though the level of violence has fallen since the worst days of the pandemic, Americans are still shooting and killing one another more frequently than they did in the years before the coronavirus arrived, the Times found. 

“We’re taking a few steps back from the cliff,” said Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, an emergency room doctor who directs a violence prevention research program at the University of California, Davis. “But there are some ominous developments. What happens in a society that is increasingly violent, increasingly mistrustful, increasingly polarized, increasingly indulgent in hate rhetoric?”

The Times mapped homicides to better understand not only the numbers of direct victims but also the communities most exposed. The analysis revealed that gun deaths spread into new neighborhoods during the pandemic: An additional 8.7 million Americans now live on a block near a gun homicide — a 23 percent increase from the pr-epandemic years.

But even as the geography of fatal shootings expanded, killings also rose sharply in the nation’s existing centers of violence. These neighborhoods saw the worst of the surge, perpetuating a pattern of concentrated violence that long predated the pandemic. More than half of all gun homicides still occurred in neighborhoods where just 6 percent of Americans live.

“You don’t want people to think that everywhere is so dangerous in a way that it’s not,” said John MacDonald, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania who reviewed The Times analysis. “On the other hand, you don’t want people to think that, oh, this is just somebody else’s problem. It’s not happening in my neighborhood.”

Criminologists have offered several explanations for the drastic rise in the number of fatal shootings during the pandemic:

A rise in gun ownership made it more likely for violent disputes to become deadly. An increase in drug use, and drug dealing, made violent conflicts more probable. The disruption of public schools abetted an expansion of youth gang activity. And an upheaval in policing led to reduced enforcement in many cities.

Most major cities contained both mostly safe areas and pockets of violence. Chicago has a national reputation for high gun violence, but on the ground, nearly a third of the city’s population lived in neighborhoods with very few shootings, while more than a quarter of the residents lived on blocks where the violence was extreme.

On the other hand, New York and Los Angeles had relatively low homicide rates overall, but those figures masked the presence of some of the nation’s most dangerous neighborhoods.


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