Pandemic-hit US confronted anew by mass shootings

Washington, March 25 (AFP/APP): Two US mass shootings in a week have thrust back to the fore the nation’s plague of gun violence, which worsened during the pandemic and may have been further fueled by spiking firearm sales in 2020.

The two separate bursts of killing, on opposite sides of the country, claimed a total of 18 lives and confronted the nation anew with a painful problem that was obscured by the virus’s out-of-control spread. In the midst of the pandemic that has killed 545,000 in the United States — the world’s worst absolute toll — cities around the country recorded worrying jumps in gun-related deaths last year.

Firearms were used to kill 43,535 people in 2020, including 19,379 homicides — a roughly 25 percent jump in homicides over 2019, according to figures from the Gun Violence Archive. The group counted 611 “mass shootings,” defined as four people wounded or killed in one incident, in 2020 against 417 for the previous year in the United States.

“Over the last year, communities have suffered not only from Covid-19 and its financial aftermath, but also from gun violence, a co-occurring public health crisis that has surged in all its forms,” Robyn Thomas, executive director of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told the US Senate on Tuesday.

As the United States was battered by the coronavirus, the nation was also rocked by a historic mass movement against police violence that was sparked after African-American George Floyd suffocated under a white officer’s knee.

In the midst of these twin crises, sales of firearms soared last spring. A Washington Post study said 23 million guns were purchased in 2020, with 2.5 million sold in June alone. “When Americans are concerned about their personal security, they buy firearms,” a Brookings Institute study said in July.

“Such concerns have been rampant since March (2020), initially due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and then the social unrest in June that followed George Floyd’s killing,” it added.

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