The violence of lockdowns

By Christopher Harper

Violence from firearms nearly doubled in Philadelphia—a trend that occurred throughout the United States—during the city’s lockdown for much of last year.

That’s the conclusion of a group of doctors and scientists from Temple University and published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. See 10.1001/jama.2021.1534

“These analyses provide evidence of a significant and sustained increase in firearm violence in Philadelphia following the enactment of COVID-19 containment policies. Counts of individuals shot per week continued to increase during protests following the killing of George Floyd and remained high during the partial lifting of containment policies until the end of the study period,” the authors found.

This study accessed data from the Philadelphia Police Department’s registry of shooting victims from January 1, 2016, through November 26, 2020. This registry is updated daily and includes all individuals shot and/or killed with a firearm. There were no changes in data collection policies or practices in 2020. Compared with trauma center records, the police registry contains approximately twice the number of individuals shot with a firearm. 

The authors examined the data after three events:

  • The enactment of Philadelphia’s first COVID-19 containment policy (closure of nonessential businesses; March 16, 2020).
  • The killing of George Floyd (May 25, 2020).
  • The partial lifting of containment policies (June 26, 2020). 

During the 256 weeks included in the study, 7,159 people were shot in Philadelphia. The shootings stood at 25 per week before the lockdown in March. However, after the lockdown, the incidents jumped to 46 people shot per week in the 37 weeks of the policy. 

During 2020, Philadelphia saw 499 murders, an increase of 40 percent over the previous year and the second-highest rate in homicides since 1960. The city had 500 murders in 1990. Other cities saw similar increases. See https://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/94292-us-homicide-rates-skyrocket-in-2020-exacerbated-by-the-covid-19-pandemic 

“The sustained nature of the increase in firearm violence observed in this study may be related to longer-term effects of COVID-19 containment policies, including intensifying unemployment and poverty, particularly in lower-income Philadelphia communities where shootings are most concentrated,” the analysis found.

Jessica Beard, a physician at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine, headed the inquiry.