What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Exploring why gun violence has soared during the pandemic, and how to combat it

The nation is convulsed again by a new spasm of shootings, as police in three states investigated weekend attacks on the heels of Friday's bloodbath in Indianapolis. Gun violence in America has remained high throughout the pandemic. By some early estimates, 2020 is one of the worst years for homicides in recent times. Amna Nawaz speaks to The Trace's Champe Barton about efforts to change gun laws.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The nation is convulsed again by a new spasm of shootings and the debate over how to stop them.

    Today, police in three states investigated weekend attacks, those on the heels of last week's shooting in Indianapolis.

  • Dennis Buckley:

    We often watch this on television. It's far away and it will never happen to us. But it did.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As Indianapolis grieves the eight lives lost in last week's shooting at a FedEx facility, new information emerges about the gunman, 19-year-old former employee Brandon Scott Hole.

    Authorities say that, last year, he legally bought the two assault rifles used in the attack, months after his mother warned police her son might attempt suicide by cop. Under Indiana's red flag law, authorities seized a weapon from Hole, but a court hearing to determine if he was fit to own a gun never happened.

  • Ryan Mears:

    This case does illustrate some of the shortcomings that exist with this red flag law.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Marion County prosecutor Ryan Mears.

  • Ryan Mears:

    He was treated by mental health professionals. They didn't simply commit him. They didn't prescribe him any additional medication. And he was cut loose. And so, for us, the risk is, if we move forward with that proceeding, and we lose, guess what happens? That firearm goes right back to that person.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile, a string of more shootings over the weekend, three of them within 24 hours, in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Austin, Texas; and Shreveport, Louisiana.

  • Around 1:

    00 a.m. on Sunday, in a Kenosha tavern, a gunman killed three people and injured three more. Police say the suspect, now in custody, targeted the victims. One witness described the scene.

  • Peter Ploskee:

    I hear gunshots going off, get up out of bed, go run to the north side of my house, look out the window, look across the street. I just see all sorts of people running from the bar.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Later that morning in Austin, a former sheriff's deputy allegedly shot and killed three people at an apartment complex. Police say the suspect, 41-year-old Stephen Broderick, was arrested today.

    And late Sunday evening in Shreveport, at least five people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds after shots were fired into a crowd. No suspects have yet been identified.

    These multiple shootings follow a spike of other high-profile mass shootings.

    Let's look now at the efforts to change laws and what we know about how well those laws work.

    Champe Barton is with The Trace, a news organization dedicated to reporting on gun violence.

    Champe, welcome to the "NewsHour" and thanks for being here.

    Let's talk about your reaction to that news we have now about the Indianapolis shooter. His first gun was confiscated. There was supposed to be a red flag hearing that never happened that might have prevented him from buying the other two weapons, is our understanding.

    So, what happened. There was a system in place, and it just didn't work?

  • Champe Barton:

    Yes, I mean, this is not entirely uncommon that you have a system that, in theory, should prevent one of these events from happening, but, in execution, it falls short in some way.

    I think the thing to note here is that the — it is not a sure thing that implementing this red flag law and making a red flag determination and confiscating this guy's weapons and then preventing him from future purchases would have stopped him from what he eventually ended up doing.

    It is entirely possible that he could have bought a gun on the private market afterwards. But, certainly, this red flag determination could have made a difference.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, put some of these headlines into context for us. We have been seeing report after report of groups shooting after group shooting.

    There was this sense that, during the pandemic or lockdown, that gun violence dropped. Is that actually what happened? What does the data show?

  • Champe Barton:

    Yes, so that's actually not what happened.

    Gun violence is at a higher rate last year than it had been in any of the previous five, maybe more years, all the years that we had on record. We published a story on this recently. But, yes, gun violence has been higher than ever. Even mass shootings, as defined by the Gun Violence Archive as more — four or more people injured or killed, not including the shooter, even those were up higher than they'd ever been.

    So, gun violence has been surging throughout the pandemic. And most frequently, it's not these sorts of incidents like we see in Indianapolis, where it is a sort of lone-style shooter we have seen before and that has sort of captured the fascination of the country.

    It's more frequently sort of more routine gun deaths that happen as part of community conflicts in cities across the country. And like I just said, those deaths were sort of higher than they'd ever been last year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, when you talk about gun violence in America, who are some of the communities who are deeply and more disproportionately impacted?

  • Champe Barton:

    Yes, I mean, it's predominantly city neighborhoods that are majority Black and majority low-income that are affected by this kind of gun violence.

    And this is true of the mass shooting violence that we see in the country. And it's also true of the sort of drumbeat of regular gun violence that we see.

    The only thing where — the only form of gun violence where Black people are not sort of the disproportionate — or don't accept a disproportionate share of the deaths, suicides, which these red flag laws do have a chance and have proven in some studies to be pretty effective at reducing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We do know that these mass attacks do tend to generate a lot of attention, though, right? And the president has been asked about it. He called these latest spike in shootings a national embarrassment.

    And President Biden has also introduced some executive action when it comes to addressing gun violence, right? When you look at those steps he's taken, what kind of a difference would those make in addressing our gun violence problem?

  • Champe Barton:

    Most of them were not any new laws that would exist on the books immediately.

    They were suggestions — or it was requiring the Department of Justice to put together laws that would prevent certain things. But we don't have an idea of what those laws would look like.

    There was also an ask that the federal government put together sort of some boilerplate red flag law, model legislation that other states could adopt. But, again, that would not necessitate that these states adopt the law.

    The one thing that — the one executive action that would absolutely have an effect, it would seem, at least according to researchers and activists, is that he pledged $5 billion to support community gun violence interventions. And that is more money than has ever been proposed to address these sorts of problems.

    And it's more money that has ever been proposed to invest into these communities that experience the vast majority of gun violence. And there is pretty robust research to suggest that the interventions that would be targeted with this money would have an effect on reducing the number of shootings and gun deaths that happen in these cities, like we talked about before.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What about the NRA? With them now in bankruptcy proceedings, is there a sense that their influence is waning with lawmakers?

  • Champe Barton:

    It's hard to say.

    It's absolutely true that the NRA is sort of weaker than it's ever been, as a result of all the things you just mentioned. However, the Republican Party has sort of absorbed the NRA's talking points and this idea of sort of gun rights absolutism.

    And that is the party line now. And I don't think, at least — this is just my personal opinion. I don't see a real reason to be super optimistic that the party line is going to shift simply because the NRA is weaker, because this has become sort of a Republican Party platform plank, as much as it already is sort of an NRA plank.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Champe Barton of The Trace, thanks so much for joining us tonight.

  • Champe Barton:

    Thanks for having me.

Listen to this Segment