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Firearm Violence Surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Reopening Phenomenon

Open AccessPublished:January 03, 2023DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jss.2022.12.017

      Abstract

      Introduction

      Past research has demonstrated a “reopening phenomenon” of increased firearm violence associated with the initial lifting of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic-related restrictions after the first wave. Now, with widespread societal reemergence from stay-at-home measures, we hypothesize another spike in firearm violence in the United States (US). Thus, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the trends in firearm violence before and after extensive community reopenings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Methods

      The Gun Violence Archive was utilized to collect data on daily firearm violence incidents, injuries, and deaths as well as on types of firearm violence. Mann–Whitney U-tests were performed for trends and types of firearm violence “before” (12/14/20-4/9/21) versus “after” (4/10/21-7/31/21) widespread societal reopening in the US. Additional analyses also sought to compare the after reopening time-period to historical data (2017-2020) of similar calendar dates, to better control for possible annual/seasonal variation.

      Results

      Median daily firearm violence incidents (153 versus 176, P < 0.001), injuries (89 versus 121, P < 0.001) and deaths (54 versus 58, P < 0.001) increased from before versus after reopening. Compared to all historical years, in the after reopening time-period there were consistent increases in total as well as mass shooting incidents/injuries/deaths (all P < 0.05).

      Conclusions

      Firearm violence incidents, injuries, and deaths increased after societal reemergence from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, there has been an increase in mass shootings despite a relative lull initially brought on by the pandemic. This suggests the “reopening phenomenon” has worsened an already substantial national firearm epidemic.

      Keywords

      Introduction

      The fears and uncertainty surrounding the emergence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) were associated with a significant spike in firearm sales in the United States (US).
      • Donnelly M.R.
      • Barie P.S.
      • Grigorian A.
      • et al.
      New York State and the nation: trends in firearm purchases and firearm violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      • Crifasi C.K.
      • Ward J.A.
      • McGinty E.E.
      • Webster D.W.
      • Barry C.L.
      Gun purchasing behaviours during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, March to mid-July 2020.
      • Caputi T.L.
      • Ayers J.W.
      • Dredze M.
      • Suplina N.
      • Burd-Sharps S.
      Collateral crises of gun preparation and the COVID-19 pandemic: infodemiology study.
      In the setting of ongoing socioeconomic upheaval brought on by the pandemic, many firearm purchasers obtained a weapon with the intention to protect themselves and their families.
      • Lyons V.H.
      • Haviland M.J.
      • Azrael D.
      • et al.
      Firearm purchasing and storage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      ,
      • Anestis M.D.
      • Bryan C.J.
      Threat perceptions and the intention to acquire firearms.
      Among these purchasers, a large proportion were first-time gun owners,
      • Schleimer J.P.
      • McCort C.D.
      • Shev A.B.
      • et al.
      Firearm purchasing and firearm violence during the coronavirus pandemic in the United States: a cross-sectional study.
      and approximately 40% of individuals admitted to storing a firearm unlocked.
      • Lyons V.H.
      • Haviland M.J.
      • Azrael D.
      • et al.
      Firearm purchasing and storage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      In addition, pandemic-related stressors coupled with the use of alcohol
      • Young K.N.
      • Yeates E.O.
      • Grigorian A.
      • et al.
      Drug and alcohol positivity of traumatically injured patients related to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
      and/or drugs
      • Satre D.D.
      • Meacham M.C.
      • Asarnow L.D.
      • Fisher W.S.
      • Fortuna L.R.
      • Iturralde E.
      Opportunities to integrate mobile app-based interventions into mental health and substance use disorder treatment services in the wake of COVID-19.
      were associated with increased firearm violence in the US in the wake of COVID-19.
      • Donnelly M.R.
      • Barie P.S.
      • Grigorian A.
      • et al.
      New York State and the nation: trends in firearm purchases and firearm violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      ,
      • Sarani B.
      COVID-19 and firearm injury: a uniquely American problem.
      • Cohen J.S.
      • Donnelly K.
      • Patel S.J.
      • et al.
      Firearm injuries involving young children in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      • Abdallah H.O.
      • Zhao C.
      • Kaufman E.
      • et al.
      Increased firearm injury during the COVID-19 pandemic: a hidden urban burden.
      In a previous study published by our study group, a phenomenon of increased firearm violence associated with phased reopening was noted in California, Ohio, and the US as a whole.
      • Donnelly M.R.
      • Grigorian A.
      • Inaba K.
      • et al.
      A dual pandemic: the influence of coronavirus disease 2019 on trends and types of firearm violence in California, Ohio, and the United States.
      Other studies have evidenced increased firearm violence incidents,
      • Schleimer J.P.
      • McCort C.D.
      • Shev A.B.
      • et al.
      Firearm purchasing and firearm violence during the coronavirus pandemic in the United States: a cross-sectional study.
      injuries, and deaths involving not only adults
      • Donnelly M.R.
      • Grigorian A.
      • Inaba K.
      • et al.
      A dual pandemic: the influence of coronavirus disease 2019 on trends and types of firearm violence in California, Ohio, and the United States.
      but also children
      • Donnelly M.
      • Grigorian A.
      • Swentek L.
      • et al.
      Firearm violence against children in the United States: trends in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
      associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the intent of firearm purchase was for self-defense, the early COVID-19 era unfortunately saw an increase in accidental shooting deaths, with an increase in fatal and nonfatal child involved shootings as well as children killed by an adult with a firearm.
      • Donnelly M.
      • Grigorian A.
      • Swentek L.
      • et al.
      Firearm violence against children in the United States: trends in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
      Conversely, there has been a decrease in defensive use, drug-involved, and home invasion shooting incidents.
      • Donnelly M.R.
      • Grigorian A.
      • Inaba K.
      • et al.
      A dual pandemic: the influence of coronavirus disease 2019 on trends and types of firearm violence in California, Ohio, and the United States.
      However, there remains a paucity of literature regarding trends in firearm violence after the widespread societal reopening that occurred in 2021.
      NY Times
      See reopening plans and mask mandates for all 50 states.
      Understanding trends during this time-period is vital to the overall understanding of firearm violence-related trends before, during and after the pandemic. This information will hopefully help target future local interventions and/or legislation. In particular, the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions lends more opportunity to mass shootings and this is an area with a paucity of research in relation to the pandemic. Thus, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the trends in firearm violence before and after extensive community reopenings during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as compared to historical data for the years 2017 to 2020 to control for annual/seasonal variation. As a result of the increased number of Americans who now own a firearm paired with heightened emotions and potentially increased aggression related to traumatic pandemic experiences,
      Northwestern Now
      Why is violent behavior spiking as pandemic ebbs? Isn’t this supposed to be a happy time?.
      we hypothesize an increase in firearm violence following societal reemergence after COVID-19.

      Materials and Methods

      This study was deemed exempt by the University of California, Irvine Institutional Review Board. The manuscript was prepared using the guidelines outlined in the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) statement.
      Retrospective firearm violence data (12/14/2020 to 7/31/2021) were obtained from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA). The GVA is an independent organization that seeks to publish accessible, comprehensive, national data on firearm violence and includes deidentified data only, and thus consent was not required for this study. This organization employs automated Internet queries to search and collect data from over 7500 sources, including police reports, media outlets, and more.
      Gun Violence Archive.
      Data on total incidents, deaths, and injuries related to firearm violence, as well as on specific types of firearm violence, such as child involved shootings, home invasions, defensive use shootings, mass shootings, and officer involved shootings, were collected. Child involved shootings included children killed or injured by a child as well as children killed or injured by an adult regardless of accidental or intentional actions. Mass shootings were defined by the GVA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as ≥4 persons shot or killed in a single incident, not including the shooter. Officer involved shootings were defined as any firearm violence during which a police officer was present.
      Gun Violence Archive.
      To evaluate trends in firearm violence after societal reemergence following COVID-19, “before community reopening” was defined as 12/14/2020 to 4/9/2021 (117 d) and “after community reopening” was 4/10/2021 to 7/31/2021 (113 d). The date April 9, 2021 was selected as the cutoff for these time periods because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker, this is the date when the US reached its daily vaccination peak with almost 4.5 million vaccines administered.
      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
      COVID data tracker.
      This date also closely coincided with many cities and states announcing plans to reopen given the decreasing COVID-19 burden.
      Office of Governor Gavin Newsom
      Governor Newsom outlines the state’s next step in the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, moving beyond the blueprint.
      • Hills M.
      COVID vaccine rollout gives US hope amid variant concerns. BBC News.
      NPR. New York City
      Former COVID-19 epicenter, to ‘fully reopen’ on July 1.
      Mayor’s Press Office
      Mayor lightfoot announces the launch of “open chicago.”.
      The start date of 12/14/2020 was selected as this was the first date entered into the COVID Data Tracker, marking the beginning of vaccination rollout.
      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
      COVID data tracker.
      However, community reopening did not immediately follow these vaccination efforts given that COVID-19 cases in the winter months were surging.
      World Health Organization
      COVID-19 weekly epidemiological update.
      Furthermore, to control for possible seasonal variation, GVA data for the dates 4/10 to 7/31 from the years 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 were compared to the “after community reopening” time-period.
      The Mann–Whitney U-test was performed to compare median daily firearm violence incidents, deaths, and injuries as well as types of firearm violence (i.e., child involved shootings, home invasions, defensive use shootings, mass shootings, and officer involved shootings) before versus after widespread community reopenings in the US. Similar statistics were run to compare the after reopening time-period with historical control data. A scatterplot was created to demonstrate the trends in firearm violence incidents and deaths from 12/14/2020 to 7/31/2021. Statistics were performed on IBM SPSS Statistics, Version 26 (IBM Corp., Armonk, NY). Statistical significance was set as P < 0.05.

      Results

      Before (12/14/2020 to 4/9/2021) versus after (4/10/2021 to 7/31/2021) widespread community reopening

      The median daily total firearm violence incidents (before: 153 incidents versus after: 176 incidents, P < 0.001), injuries (before: 89 injuries versus after: 121 injuries, P < 0.001) and deaths (before: 54 deaths versus after: 58 deaths, P < 0.001) all increased from before versus after reopening. This corresponded with an increase in total number of firearm violence incidents (before: 18,003 incidents versus after: 20,055 incidents), injuries (before: 10,884 injuries versus after: 14,503 injuries), and deaths (before: 6252 deaths versus after: 6685 deaths) during this time. Within the scatterplot, which includes data from these time periods, a clear increase in firearm violence incidents and deaths after widespread community reopening are noted (Fig.).
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Fig.Trends in Firearm Violence Before (12/14/20-4/9/21) versus After Reopening (4/10/21-7/31/21). The red line represents the cutoff for “before” versus “after” widespread community reopening.
      Similarly, median daily child involved shooting incidents (before: two incidents versus after: three incidents, P < 0.001) and median daily child involved shooting injuries (before: two injuries versus after: three injuries, P < 0.001) increased after widespread community reopenings. With regards to trends in totals, there were increased total child-involved shooting incidents (before: 284 incidents versus after: 376 incidents) and child involved shooting injuries (before: 291 injuries versus after: 472 injuries) after reopening.
      Contrarily, median daily home invasion incidents (before: three incidents versus after: two incidents, P = 0.020) and deaths (before: one death versus after: 0 deaths, P = 0.037) decreased after reopening compared to before reopening. Similarly, total home invasion incidents (before: 369 incidents versus after: 292 incidents) and home invasion deaths (before: 149 deaths versus after: 104 deaths) decreased after societal reopening.
      The period after community reopening also had an increase in median daily mass shooting incidents (before: one incident versus after: two incidents, P < 0.001), mass shooting injuries (before: four versus after: 9, P < 0.001), and mass shooting deaths (before: 0 deaths versus two deaths, P = 0.003). Moreover, total mass shooting incidents (before: 146 incidents versus after: 268 incidents), mass shooting injuries (before: 564 injuries versus after: 1150 injuries), and mass shooting deaths (before: 186 deaths versus after: 265 deaths) increased after reopening.
      There were no changes in median daily defensive use and officer involved shooting incidents, injuries, and deaths before versus after widespread community reopening (all P > 0.05) (Table 1).
      Table 1Median Daily Firearm Violence Incidents, Deaths and Injuries Before (12/14/20-4/9/21) versus After Reopening (4/10/21-7/31/21).
      Firearm violenceBefore reopening, daily median (min, max)After reopening, daily median (min, max)P
      Total incidents153.0 (110, 262)176.0 (115, 293)<0.001
      Total deaths54.0 (34, 81)58.0 (25, 94)<0.001
      Total injuries89.0 (52, 178)121.0 (67, 281)<0.001
      Child involved incidents2.0 (0, 7)3.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Child involved deaths1.0 (0, 9)1.0 (0, 7)0.416
      Child involved injuries2.0 (0, 10)3.0 (0, 23)<0.001
      Home invasion incidents3.0 (0, 8)2.0 (0, 8)0.020
      Home invasion deaths1.0 (0, 7)0 (0, 4)0.037
      Home invasion injured1.0 (0, 5)1.0 (0, 6)0.766
      Defensive use incidents3.0 (0, 9)3.0 (0, 10)0.578
      Defensive use deaths1.0 (0, 8)1.0 (0, 7)0.997
      Defensive use injured2.0 (0, 9)2.0 (0, 22)0.490
      Mass shooting incidents1.0 (0, 6)2.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Mass shooting deaths0 (0, 12)2.0 (0, 11)0.003
      Mass shooting injured4.0 (0, 29)9.0 (0, 51)<0.001
      Officer involved incidents13.0 (5, 22)13.0 (5, 22)0.576
      Officer involved deaths5.0 (1, 12)5.0 (0, 13)0.536
      Officer involved injured4.0 (0, 12)4.0 (0, 11)0.193
      Bold values indicate statistically significant values (P < 0.05).

      After widespread community reopening compared to historical data (2017 versus 2021)

      The median daily total firearm violence incidents (2017 historical: 166 incidents versus after: 176 incidents, P = 0.012), injuries (2017 historical: 87 injuries versus after: 121 injuries, P < 0.001) and deaths (2017 historical: 43 deaths versus after: 58 deaths, P < 0.001) all increased from 4/10/2017-7/31/2017 to 4/10/2021-7/31/2021. Similarly, child-involved as well as mass shooting incidents, injuries, and deaths all increased after community reopening compared to 2017 (all P < 0.05). On the other hand, home invasion and defensive use incidents, injuries, and deaths decreased after community reopening (all P < 0.05) compared to 2017 (Table 2).
      Table 2Firearm Violence Before (2017 Historical) versus After Reopening (4/10/21-7/31/21).
      Firearm violenceBefore 2017 historical, daily median (min, max)After reopening, daily median (min, max)P
      Total incidents166.0 (108, 234)176.0 (115, 293)0.012
      Total deaths43.0 (23, 74)58.0 (25, 94)<0.001
      Total injuries87.0 (44, 151)121.0 (67, 281)<0.001
      Child involved incidents2.0 (0, 7)3.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Child involved deaths0 (0, 9)1.0 (0, 7)0.006
      Child involved injuries2.0 (0, 13)3.0 (0, 23)<0.001
      Home invasion incidents7.0 (2, 15)2.0 (0, 8)<0.001
      Home invasion deaths1.0 (0, 7)0 (0, 4)0.001
      Home invasion injured3.0 (0, 15)1.0 (0, 6)<0.001
      Defensive use incidents6.0 (1, 12)3.0 (0, 10)<0.001
      Defensive use deaths2.0 (0, 8)1.0 (0, 7)0.453
      Defensive use injured3.0 (0, 11)2.0 (0, 22)0.015
      Mass shooting incidents1.0 (0, 6)2.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Mass shooting deaths0.0 (0, 9)2.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Mass shooting injured3.0 (0, 35)9.0 (0, 51)<0.001
      Officer involved incidents12.0 (4, 22)13.0 (5, 22)0.020
      Officer involved deaths4.0 (0, 12)5.0 (0, 13)0.102
      Officer involved injured4.0 (0, 14)4.0 (0, 11)0.286
      Bold values indicate statistically significant values (P < 0.05).

      After widespread community reopening compared to historical data (2018 versus 2021)

      The median daily total firearm violence incidents (2018 historical: 153 incidents versus after: 176 incidents, P < 0.001), injuries (2018 historical: 82 injuries versus after: 121 injuries, P < 0.001) and deaths (2018 historical: 41 deaths versus after: 58 deaths, P < 0.001) all increased from 4/10/2018-7/31/2018 to 4/10/2021-7/31/2021. Child involved shooting incidents and injuries as well as mass shooting incidents/injuries/deaths all increased after community reopening compared to 2018 (all P < 0.05) (Table 3).
      Table 3Firearm Violence Before (2018 Historical) versus After Reopening (4/10/21-7/31/21).
      Firearm violenceBefore 2018 historical, daily median (min, max)After reopening, daily median (min, max)P
      Total incidents153.0 (127, 248)176.0 (115, 293)<0.001
      Total deaths41.0 (21, 66)58.0 (25, 94)<0.001
      Total injuries82.0 (47, 161)121.0 (67, 281)<0.001
      Child involved incidents2.0 (0, 7)3.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Child involved deaths1.0 (0, 6)1.0 (0, 7)0.081
      Child involved injuries2.0 (0, 13)3.0 (0, 23)<0.001
      Home invasion incidents5.0 (1, 13)2.0 (0, 8)<0.001
      Home invasion deaths1.0 (0, 4)0 (0, 4)0.131
      Home invasion injured2.0 (0, 8)1.0 (0, 6)0.001
      Defensive use incidents5.0 (1, 14)3.0 (0, 10)<0.001
      Defensive use deaths2.0 (0, 9)1.0 (0, 7)0.937
      Defensive use injured3.0 (0, 10)2.0 (0, 22)0.238
      Mass shooting incidents1.0 (0, 6)2.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Mass shooting deaths0 (0, 10)2.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Mass shooting injured4.0 (0, 30)9.0 (0, 51)<0.001
      Officer involved incidents12.0 (5, 22)13.0 (5, 22)0.044
      Officer involved deaths4.0 (0, 13)5.0 (0, 13)0.014
      Officer involved injured4.0 (0, 24)4.0 (0, 11)0.369
      Bold values indicate statistically significant values (P < 0.05).

      After widespread community reopening compared to historical data (2019 versus 2021)

      The median daily total firearm violence incidents (2019 historical: 153 incidents versus after: 176 incidents, P < 0.001), injuries (2019 historical: 87 injuries versus after: 121 injuries, P < 0.001) and deaths (2019 historical: 43 deaths versus after: 58 deaths, P < 0.001) all increased from 4/10/2019-7/31/2019 to 4/10/2021-7/31/2021. Child-involved and mass shooting incidents/injuries/deaths all increased after community reopening compared to 2019 historical trends (all P < 0.05). Officer involved incidents (2019 historical: 10 incidents versus after: 13 incidents, P < 0.001) and deaths (2019 historical: 4 deaths versus after: 5 deaths, P = 0.016) also increased during this time (Table 4).
      Table 4Firearm Violence Before (2019 Historical) versus After Reopening (4/10/21-7/31/21).
      Firearm violenceBefore 2019 historical, daily median (min, max)After reopening, daily median (min, max)P
      Total incidents153.0 (120, 250)176.0 (115, 293)<0.001
      Total deaths43.0 (21, 76)58.0 (25, 94)<0.001
      Total injuries87.0 (59, 179)121.0 (67, 281)<0.001
      Child involved incidents2.0 (0, 7)3.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Child involved deaths0.0 (0, 11)1.0 (0, 7)0.018
      Child involved injuries1.0 (0, 20)3.0 (0, 23)<0.001
      Home invasion incidents5.0 (0, 13)2.0 (0, 8)<0.001
      Home invasion deaths1.0 (0, 5)0 (0, 4)0.040
      Home invasion injured2.0 (0, 10)1.0 (0, 6)0.001
      Defensive use incidents5.0 (0, 10)3.0 (0, 10)<0.001
      Defensive use deaths2.0 (0, 7)1.0 (0, 7)0.526
      Defensive use injured3.0 (0, 9)2.0 (0, 22)0.125
      Mass shooting incidents1.0 (0, 7)2.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Mass shooting deaths0.0 (0, 14)2.0 (0, 11)<0.001
      Mass shooting injured4.0 (0, 32)9.0 (0, 51)<0.001
      Officer involved incidents10.0 (5, 20)13.0 (5, 22)<0.001
      Officer involved deaths4.0 (0, 17)5.0 (0, 13)0.016
      Officer involved injured4.0 (0, 22)4.0 (0, 11)0.023
      Bold values indicate statistically significant values (P < 0.05).

      After widespread community reopening compared to pandemic time-period historical data (2020 versus 2021)

      Median daily total firearm violence deaths (2020 historical: 55 deaths versus after: 58, P = 0.033) increased significantly after widespread community reopening compared to the 2020 pandemic time period control data. Moreover, median daily mass shooting deaths also increased during this time (2020 historical: one death versus after: two deaths, P = 0.021) (Table 5).
      Table 5Firearm Violence Before (2020 Historical) versus After Reopening (4/10/21-7/31/21).
      Firearm violenceBefore 2020 historical, daily median (min, max)After reopening, daily median (min, max)P
      Total incidents182.0 (119, 353)176.0 (115, 293)0.186
      Total deaths55.0 (27, 118)58.0 (25, 94)0.033
      Total injuries120.0 (55, 339)121.0 (67, 281)0.279
      Child involved incidents3.0 (0, 13)3.0 (0, 11)0.139
      Child involved deaths1.0 (0, 8)1.0 (0, 7)0.404
      Child involved injuries3.0 (0, 16)3.0 (0, 23)0.230
      Home invasion incidents4.0 (1, 9)2.0 (0, 8)<0.001
      Home invasion deaths1.0 (0, 4)0 (0, 4)0.040
      Home invasion injured1.0 (0, 7)1.0 (0, 6)0.016
      Defensive use incidents4.0 (0, 11)3.0 (0, 10)0.197
      Defensive use deaths2.0 (0, 7)1.0 (0, 7)0.381
      Defensive use injured2.0 (0, 15)2.0 (0, 22)0.848
      Mass shooting incidents2.0 (0, 15)2.0 (0, 11)0.266
      Mass shooting deaths1.0 (0, 12)2.0 (0, 11)0.021
      Mass shooting injured6.0 (0, 73)9.0 (0, 51)0.339
      Officer involved incidents13.0 (5, 34)13.0 (5, 22)0.158
      Officer involved deaths5.0 (0, 12)5.0 (0, 13)0.277
      Officer involved injured4.0 (0, 27)4.0 (0, 11)0.885
      Bold values indicate statistically significant values (P < 0.05).

      Discussion

      Pandemic-related restrictions have been instrumental in curtailing the spread and severity of COVID-19.
      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
      Science brief: COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination.
      Thus, given the stabilization of COVID-19 burden, the US has been enabled to resume daily societal activities.
      COVID19.CA.GOV
      Current safety measures.
      However, this retrospective database study demonstrates increased overall firearm violence incidents, injuries, and deaths after widespread community reopenings in the US as well increases in the number of daily mass shooting incidents, injuries, and deaths. There was no difference in defensive firearm use and a decrease in home invasion incidents and deaths in the period after reopening. In all, these spikes in firearm violence following societal reopening point to a “reopening phenomenon” of significantly increased firearm-related incidents, injuries, and deaths associated with societal re-emergence.
      Firearm violence has continued to be a healthcare epidemic with around 40,000 firearm deaths annually in the US,
      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
      National center for health statistics: all injuries.
      which is more than 11 times greater than other high-income countries.
      • Grinshteyn E.
      • Hemenway D.
      Violent death rates in the US compared to those of the other high-income countries.
      Startlingly, the authors' current study suggests even further worsening of the increased firearm violence seen during the early phases of the pandemic
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      • McCort C.D.
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      Firearm purchasing and firearm violence during the coronavirus pandemic in the United States: a cross-sectional study.
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      including domestic firearm violence
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      and pediatric firearm violence.
      • Donnelly M.
      • Grigorian A.
      • Swentek L.
      • et al.
      Firearm violence against children in the United States: trends in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
      Interestingly, as described in the authors’ previous study, the spikes in firearm violence were not seen with defensive shootings such as home invasion and defensive use. This is despite many Americans obtaining firearms for the purported reason of protection against socioeconomic uncertainties and fears of rising crime.
      • Donnelly M.R.
      • Grigorian A.
      • Inaba K.
      • et al.
      A dual pandemic: the influence of coronavirus disease 2019 on trends and types of firearm violence in California, Ohio, and the United States.
      As such, given the decrease in COVID-19 related deaths, especially in urban cities,
      CBS News
      Covid-19 death rate in rural America now double that of urban communities.
      a focus of resources must be given to curtail this public health crisis. On a community level, these efforts may include increased education on safe storage of firearms,
      • Duncan T.K.
      • Weaver J.L.
      • Zakrison T.L.
      • et al.
      Domestic violence and safe storage of firearms in the COVID-19 era.
      ,
      • Hemenway D.
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      Firearms training: what is actually taught?.
      more resources dedicated to protecting adult and pediatric victims of domestic violence,
      • Duncan T.K.
      • Weaver J.L.
      • Zakrison T.L.
      • et al.
      Domestic violence and safe storage of firearms in the COVID-19 era.
      and improving access to mental health services, particularly for individuals who misuse alcohol
      • Morgan E.R.
      • Gomez A.
      • Rivara F.P.
      • Rowhani-Rahbar A.
      Firearm storage and adult alcohol misuse among Washington state households with children.
      or other illicit substances.
      • Hohl B.C.
      • Wiley S.
      • Wiebe D.J.
      • Culyba A.J.
      • Drake R.
      • Branas C.C.
      Association of drug and alcohol use with adolescent firearm homicide at individual, family, and neighborhood levels.
      On the state or national level, implementation of stronger gun laws may also help reduce the number of pediatric shooting incidents.
      • Donnelly M.
      • Grigorian A.
      • Swentek L.
      • et al.
      Firearm violence against children in the United States: trends in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
      Mass shootings are an unfortunate “American problem”. While Americans comprise approximately 4.4% of the global population, over 31% of the perpetrators of mass shootings historically have been American.
      The New York Times
      Why does the U.S. Have so many mass shootings? Research is clear: guns.
      This retrospective study demonstrated an increase in mass shooting incidents, injuries, and deaths in the US following a relative lull brought on by the pandemic. This return of mass shootings has been predicted dating back to the beginning of COVID-19.
      • Klemko R.
      Gatherings as states reopen could spell return of another dark American phenomenon: mass shootings.
      With increased congregation again at schools, places of worship, bars, restaurants, and concerts, there are more opportunities for this form of mass violence.
      • Morgan E.R.
      • Gomez A.
      • Rivara F.P.
      • Rowhani-Rahbar A.
      Firearm storage and adult alcohol misuse among Washington state households with children.
      In addition, increased firearm purchases
      • Schleimer J.P.
      • McCort C.D.
      • Shev A.B.
      • et al.
      Firearm purchasing and firearm violence during the coronavirus pandemic in the United States: a cross-sectional study.
      as well as social,
      • Elmer T.
      • Mepham K.
      • Stadtfeld C.
      Students under lockdown: comparisons of students' social networks and mental health before and during the COVID-19 crisis in Switzerland.
      economic,
      • Ettman C.K.
      • Abdalla S.M.
      • Cohen G.H.
      • Sampson L.
      • Vivier P.M.
      • Galea S.
      Low assets and financial stressors associated with higher depression during COVID-19 in a nationally representative sample of US adults.
      and psychological stressors
      • Ettman C.K.
      • Abdalla S.M.
      • Cohen G.H.
      • Sampson L.
      • Vivier P.M.
      • Galea S.
      Prevalence of depression symptoms in US adults before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      brought on by the pandemic may be linked to this resurgence in mass shootings.
      • McPhedran S.
      Australian mass shootings: an analysis of incidents and offenders.
      However, previous research has described potential interventions that may be effective at decreasing the incidence of mass shootings.
      • Gold L.H.
      Domestic violence, firearms, and mass shootings.
      ,
      • Wintemute G.J.
      • Pear V.A.
      • Schleimer J.P.
      • et al.
      Extreme risk protection orders intended to prevent mass shootings: a case series.
      Examples include: preventing known perpetrators of domestic violence from purchasing a firearm,
      • Gold L.H.
      Domestic violence, firearms, and mass shootings.
      utilizing extreme risk protection orders to reduce firearm access when the imminent risk of firearm violence is deemed high,
      • Wintemute G.J.
      • Pear V.A.
      • Schleimer J.P.
      • et al.
      Extreme risk protection orders intended to prevent mass shootings: a case series.
      and increasing funding of interdisciplinary research on mass shootings that will continue to inform future policy.
      As a retrospective database study, there are certain limitations inherent to the study design including classification/coding errors and missing information. Additionally, as the GVA uses automated internet queries to search police and media reports, there may be an underrepresentation of parts of the country that receive less coverage. However, the GVA is nationally recognized and has been utilized for research previously.
      • Donnelly M.
      • Grigorian A.
      • Swentek L.
      • et al.
      Firearm violence against children in the United States: trends in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
      ,
      • Peña P.A.
      • Jena A.
      Mass shootings in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      Because there is no consensus definition of what constitutes a “mass shooting”,
      • Bates J.
      What counts as a mass shooting? Why so much of America’s gun violence gets overlooked.
      this study used the definition provided by the GVA, which aligns exactly with the definition provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
      Department of Criminology Penn Arts & Sciences
      What is a mass shooting? What can be done?.
      Moreover, although these findings suggest that stronger gun laws may be appropriate to address the “reopening phenomenon” of increased firearm violence following widespread community reopening, the authors acknowledge that there are many other risk factors that must be addressed in order to curtail the surge of daily firearm injuries and deaths. Additionally, as the database does not allow for a breakdown of homicide, suicide, and accidental shootings, it is difficult to identify targeted public policy interventions at this time and a broader approach may be needed first to curtail the spike in firearm violence until more is known specifically about the types of shootings. And, finally, although the cutoff point for “before” versus “after” widespread community reopening was set based off vaccination data as well as reopening decisions from multiple major cities, the inability to set a true cutoff date that is applicable nationally is a significant limitation of this study.

      Conclusions

      This retrospective analysis demonstrates a worsening “reopening phenomenon” following widespread lifting of pandemic-related restrictions in the setting of increased firearm purchases and overall socioeconomic chaos brought on by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study also provides evidence of an increase in mass shootings in the aftermath of the pandemic. As COVID-19 related deaths have begun to stabilize, increased efforts to curtail a worsening firearm related epidemic in the US are immediately needed.

      Author Contributions

      M.R.D. and J.N. were involved in conception and design, analysis and interpretation of the data, drafting the article, critically revising the article and providing final approval. C.K., B.S., L.S., C.D., A.G. and S.S. were involved in the design, interpretation of the data, critically revising the article and providing final approval.

      Acknowledgments

      None.

      Disclosure

      None.

      Funding

      None.

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