dr. kathryn bass

Gun-related violence has risen sharply during the pandemic, affecting minority communities disproportionately

Feb 18, 2021

I’m proud to be a Fellow with the American College of Surgeons, which is shining a light this month on the serious and increasing problem of gun violence across America.

An article in the February edition of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons (JACS), ”Increased Firearm Injury During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Hidden Urban Burden,” details the factors contributing to this crisis. These issues affect urban minorities, and especially females and young people, at alarming rates.

The study focused on a cohort of patients ages 14 and up, and cared for in a Philadelphia level-1 urban trauma center between February 1 and May 30, 2020. Researchers analyzed the causes of injuries for patients treated prior to the statewide pandemic lockdown, and compared them with those seen after the lockdown was imposed.

The resulting data show that intentional injuries increased, especially in the form of gun violence, among the post-lockdown group. In fact, firearm injuries nearly doubled. A shocking 22.9 percent of patients arrived at the ER with gunshot wounds during the lockdown. The pre-lockdown group represented 12.6 percent. This sharp rise occurred despite the fact that overall ER and nonintentional trauma visits decreased, as one would expect, with people staying home and doing less risky activities during the lockdown.

The editorial that accompanied this article noted that increases in firearm injuries have been seen in trauma centers in several other U.S. cities, impacting minority groups at higher rates than Caucasians. “Increased intentional violent injury, particularly penetrating trauma, was noted with an asymmetric racial allocation in young Black men,” the authors concluded, with a more than 8 percent discrepancy seen in the Philadelphia study. Indeed, as Time magazine reported in late December, more than 19,000 people were killed in shootings and firearm-related incidents in 2020 across America, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.

The editorial also confirmed that legal firearm sales increased after the lockdown began, with pre-purchase background checks rising by 1.2 million. Moreover, many firearms are obtained illegally, so this increase was undoubtedly even higher.

This data has been mirrored here in our City of Buffalo, which saw 355 shooting victims in 2020, up 90 percent from 2019 and 47 percent over Buffalo’s five-year average. The number of innocent victims that this violence ensnares is even more concerning: in 2020, more than 20 percent of Buffalo’s shooting victims were unintended targets — people in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Equally alarming – especially for a physician who cares for mothers and children – is the increasing number of women among the victims. Consistent with the JACS study, four times more females were struck by bullets in 2020 in Buffalo than on average, according to the Buffalo Peacemakers, an urban non-violence coalition which intervenes in gang conflicts and helps encourage nonviolent solutions. Just as tragically, as reported by The Buffalo News, one of every six homicide victims in 2020 was under 21 years of age in Buffalo, and nearly 88 percent were black.

A major reason this is happening is easier access to guns themselves, which enter our state illegally due to the weaker gun laws in neighboring Pennsylvania and Ohio. These “street guns” are made cheaply and have “homemade” modifications that fire more bullets at the squeeze of the trigger. Unfortunately, their recoil is often too much for an inexperienced person to manage, which leads to inaccurate firings and heartbreaking, unintended victims.

A rise in mental illness is also contributing to these figures, and while the study did not distinguish between acts of violence and suicides within the post-lockdown groups, much has been written detailing the added stresses the pandemic has caused those suffering from emotional disabilities, especially among young people. The JACS study authors recommend that specific actions be undertaken to address the impact of social isolation on injury. Public and private health system leaders should develop partnerships that embrace medical professional support to proactively reduce violent injury, and specifically firearm-related injury, during periods of social isolation.

YOU can also help stop this disturbing trend. Talk to your kids and other youth about the stresses they’re experiencing, especially those living in low-income neighborhoods where violence is prevalent. Help them find worthwhile activities during this uncertain time such as employment, schooling, workforce training, volunteering, or fitness activities. Become a mentor, or lead them to a mentor like the Peacemakers, to help them find a path to health and safety that doesn’t involve gangs, drugs and other high-risk behaviors. Encourage people of all ages to solve their disputes without resorting to violence. What may seem like a big deal in the heat of the moment usually isn’t, once cooler heads are allowed to prevail. Unfortunately, when guns are as accessible as they are, that realization all too often comes too late.

#SocialJustice #DoctorsAgainstViolence #MentalHealthMatters