During the pandemic, mass shootings have mostly not been the kind of public massacre that we are watching unfold in Colorado and Georgia.
With schools and businesses closed, the killings took different forms but did not abate. Nationally, mass shootings jumped nearly 50% during a pandemic with crippling unemployment, violent protests and idle youth.
A USA TODAY analysis of Gun Violence Archive statistics from 2020 shows that mass shootings surged by 47% as many states reported unprecedented increases in weapons-related incidents. In 2020, the U.S. reported 611 mass shooting events that resulted in 513 deaths and 2,543 injuries. In 2019, there were 417 mass shootings with 465 deaths and 1,707 injured.
What Biden promised
We will learn quickly if this will push a new president to aggressively pursue new gun laws.
New gun control legislation is pending in the U.S. Senate. The House just passed two bills to strengthen background checks and make them a requirement for nearly all gun purchases. The bill is all but doomed in the Senate, where such legislation would have to find 10 Republican senators to support overcoming a filibuster that would block any attempt to tighten gun laws.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) opened the door for background checks for online gun sales and for guns sold at gun shows, but there is not much support for requiring background checks for all gun sales, including between friends or family, as Democrats want.
Joe Biden spoke out against the National Rifle Association as a presidential candidate, as vice president and as a U.S. senator. During the 2020 campaign, he promised to resurrect a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He also proposed that it is time to “hold gun manufacturers accountable” by repealing the legal protection granted under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. It is rarified protection for gunmakers that shields them from lawsuits when guns are used in crimes. Biden promised to make this a priority.
Biden was one of the main sponsors of the 1994 assault weapons ban that make it illegal to manufacture and sell semi-automatic rifles that accept magazines with multiple rounds. The assault weapons ban expired, and Congress showed no serious interest in extending it. As a candidate, Biden said a new version of an assault weapons ban should include a ban on the importation of weapons that fit the definition of an assault weapon.
Under the previous assault weapon ban, it was not illegal to own a weapon that you possessed before the ban was enacted. Biden proposes a new assault weapon law would regulate the possession of existing assault weapons under the National Firearms Act, the same act that strictly regulates machine gun ownership.
Biden also proposes buy-back programs for assault weapons in which the government would offer a reward of some sort if people turn in their assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Buy-back programs, while popular as public relations campaigns, have not proven to lower crime rates. Various studies have found that the people who turn in the weapons are not the people who are most likely to commit violent acts.
One way gun buy-backs might be useful is in removing them from households where a person might consider suicide. In fact, suicide is the No. 1 category of gun deaths in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden wants to expand background checks to involve all gun sales, not just those guns that are sold by retailers. And he wants to extend the time that background checks are allowed to take to 10 business days. As it is now, if a background check does not turn up a reason to deny the sale within three days, the sale can go forward.
Biden promised to “enact legislation to prohibit all online sales of firearms, ammunition, kits and gun parts.” He said he wants a federal law that would force a person accused of domestic violence to hand over any weapons they own. Some states already have such rules.
Biden also says he supports extreme risk laws that enable concerned family members or police to legally remove weapons from a person who is suspected to pose a danger or who is in a time of crisis in which they are suspected to be dangerous. Biden said he would provide incentives for states to enact such laws. He also said he would provide incentives for states to require gun licenses, even though some states’ constitutions expressly prohibit licensing. Others license handguns but not rifles.
The mass killing in Boulder, Colorado, comes even as Senate Democrats said this week that they might pull back any aggressive plans to pass gun control legislation. BuzzFeed said even since last week’s mass shootings in Georgia, “… a half dozen Republican senators expressed opposition to universal background checks and said that policy would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate.” BuzzFeed noted:
That leaves Democrats with a choice between lowering their aims or fighting for an extensive bill and risking coming away with nothing. There does not appear to be much appetite for the latter path.
“Do you try and move a comprehensive gun bill that will go nowhere?” said Delaware Sen. Chris Coons. “Or do you take a small bill, pass it, then a medium-sized bill and pass it?”
It’s been almost three decades since Congress last passed a meaningful gun control bill in 1994, when they banned assault weapons for a decade. Democrats want to break that streak.
Mass shootings have continued
It may have escaped your attention that mass shootings have continued unabated despite the pandemic. Just look at the last 10 days. There has been at least one mass shooting in the United States in eight of the last 10 days and, some days, there was more than one. Most of these never made the national news.
There were more than 600 shootings in which four or more people were shot by one person compared with 417 in 2019.
Many of those shootings involved gang violence, fights and domestic incidents, where the perpetrator knew the victims, according to Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., and a co-founder of the Violence Project, a research center that studies gun violence.
The early research suggests that widespread unemployment, financial stress, a rise in drug and alcohol addiction, and a lack of access to community resources caused by the pandemic contributed to the increase in shootings in 2020.
We will soon learn more about the victims of the latest mass shooting even before families have buried the dead from the last one. In time, we will learn more about the killer and a possible motive while politicians will offer thoughts and prayers. Following a high-profile mass killing, the public usually becomes briefly interested in some kind of gun control. But the support always fades.
The most remarkable part of Gallup’s polling on this topic is that little changes, no matter who is president.