In many American cities, where economies have been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, there been a surge in gun violence, including six killings of juveniles in Oakland, Calif., since June and a 40 percent increase in homicides over all. To the south, in Los Angeles, the picture is equally bloody, with the city on pace to have more than 300 homicides for the first time since 2009.
A study published this month by researchers at the University of California, Davis, estimated that 110,000 people in California bought guns this year because they were worried about the destabilizing effects of the pandemic. The number, based on a survey conducted over the summer, appears to be corroborated by the surge of firearm background checks this year, about 95,000 more than last year.
Beyond California, major cities including Minneapolis, Milwaukee and New York, as well as smaller communities like Lubbock, Texas, and Lexington, Ky., are all confronting the same grim pattern. Some places, like Kansas City, Mo., and Indianapolis, have set records for the number of killings in a single year. Philadelphia, which was gripped by unrest this week after the police shooting of a Black man, is among the cities with the highest increase in homicides — its 404 killings this year are a more than 40 percent increase compared with the same period last year.
Criminologists studying the rise in the murder rate point to the effects the pandemic has had on everything from mental health to policing in a time of social distancing, with fewer officers able to perform the up-close-and-personal community outreach work that in normal times has helped mitigate violence.
The epidemic of murder in America looms over the final days of a polarizing election campaign that President Trump has sought to frame as a referendum on law and order. His refrain has been constant: that cities run by Democrats have let crime get out of control.
But the data shows that the waves of killings have afflicted Democratic- and Republican-run cities alike.
“The increase has had nothing to do with the political affiliation of your mayor,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Dr. Rosenfeld has studied crime trends during the pandemic for the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan research organization, and found that homicides increased an average of 53 percent across 20 major American cities during the summer.