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Six months into this year—and on a day when gunfire killed at least six attending a Chicago area holiday parade—mass shootings and gun deaths in the United States rival 2021’s record-breaking figures, as a wave of gun violence that began at the start of the pandemic continues to rage—though a Covid-era jump in firearm sales finally began leveling off.
The United States logged 306 mass shootings with at least four injuries or deaths from the start of this year to Sunday, compared to 327 mass shootings over the same period in 2021 and 256 in 2020, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.
Mass shootings this year are on track to approach the 692 recorded in 2021, which was the highest figure since the Gun Violence Archive started tracking shootings in 2014.
Some 10,072 people nationwide have died due to firearms—including intentional and accidental killings but not suicides—so far in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, meaning this year’s overall figure could near 2021’s 20,944 deaths (a seven-year high) and exceed 2020’s 19,518 deaths if the current pace continues.
Meanwhile, gun sales have begun easing: U.S. dealers sold about 8.8 million guns in the first six months of this year, a 16% drop from the same period in 2021 and a 21% drop from 2020, when a public health crisis and an election helped push sales to record levels, according to Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting.
Firearm sales are still well above pre-pandemic levels: Purchases in the first half of this year are up 33% from 2019 and up 27% from 2018, according to figures from Small Arms Analytics, which estimates gun sales using FBI background check data.
On Monday, six people were killed and two dozen were brought to hospitals in a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, the latest U.S. mass shooting.
Gun violence soared after Covid-19 reached the United States in early 2020. In the first year of the pandemic, the nationwide gun violence rate jumped 30% compared to the prior 12 months, one peer-reviewed study found last year. In the nation’s largest cities, homicides and other types of violent crime also jumped in 2020 and continued to rise last year, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Some researchers have blamed this jarring trend partly on the economic and psychological stresses wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Similarly, gun industry experts think firearm sales initially jumped in early 2020 because the pandemic caused many people to fear for their safety, and remained high through a summer of tense protests and a dramatic presidential race (gun sales often spike around elections, especially if gun enthusiasts think pro-gun control politicians will win).
What We Don’t Know
The exact relationship between violence and gun sales is unclear, though some research suggests places with more firearms tend to have more gun violence. Some gun control advocates warn spiking sales could mean more firearms are owned by inexperienced people who are unfamiliar with the risks. However, gun control opponents think the rise in violence has led to a jump in firearm sales, not the other way around, often pointing to statistics showing many crimes are committed with illegal guns that were initially sold years earlier.
A wave of high-profile mass shootings this year—including a supermarket shooting that killed 10 in Buffalo and a school shooting that killed 21 in Texas—spurred lawmakers to pass one of the most significant federal gun laws in decades last month. Signed by President Joe Biden, the bipartisan law boosts background checks for people ages 18 to 20, prevents convicted domestic abusers from buying firearms and encourages states to pass red-flag laws that let judges take away guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others. The package falls well short of Democrats’ goals: It doesn’t ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, mandate background checks or raise the age to buy a semiautomatic rifle.