Guns and Gun Violence During COVID-19

This week’s blog is written by Dion McGill, SCY Communications and Community Outreach Manager. 

While certainly, a lion’s share of news right now is focused around COVID-19 and all of the many related discussions, here in Chicago, even in the face of a pandemic — gun violence is still a stark reality for many residents across the city. In the words of Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Parish in the Auburn-Gresham community and a long time gun violence prevention advocate,  “This other virus called violence we’ve had for years.”

As Block Club Chicago recently reported, Crime is slightly down in Chicago during the coronavirus pandemic, but shootings and murders were up at the time the article was published. When you compare Jan-March of 2019 to Jan-March of this year (The Chicago quarantine began on March 21st), murders are up, from 82 in 2019 to 93 in 2020.

Meanwhile, since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, gun sales have been soaring nationally.  The drastic increase in customers has been taxing on even the most discerning firearm retailers, leaving them in many a stressful situation, as The Trace highlighted in a recent story.  While we don’t have exact numbers on the increase on actual sales, criminal background checks, required for many gun sales, soared 300 percent compared with the same date in 2019, according to federal data shared with the National Shooting Sports Foundation on March 16.

Additionally, gun stores are on the federal “essential businesses” list, much to the consternation of many gun violence prevention advocates. It’s important to note that rather to pointing to having a gun in the home making you safe, research actually points to the opposite; to quote The Trace:

“Although the National Rifle Association and others argue that “good guys with guns” save lives, defensive gun use is the exception rather than the rule, experts tell contributor Melinda Wenner Moyer. Having a gun in the home increases the likelihood of accidental injury, homicide, and suicide. As Wenner Moyer writes: “The research on guns points to one conclusion. The more guns we have, and the closer we keep them to us, the more danger we will be in during this pandemic.” Source: Will A Gun Keep Your Family Safe?  Here’s What The Evidence Says

As a member of the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition, these are topics that we discuss weekly with our colleagues in the coalition. Additionally, as we continue through this period of social-distancing and self-quarantining, discussions abound over the topic of domestic violence, and additionally the part that guns can play in that violence.  It was reported recently that domestic violence cases are surging during the COVID-19 crisis.  Popping up alongside those conversations are efforts to raise awareness and knowledge in Illinois about the Firearm Restraining Order Act (FRO), a law that went into effect in 2019.  To quote the website,

“A FRO is a civil court order, signed by a judge, that temporarily prohibits someone (the “respondent”) who is at risk of hurting themselves or others from possessing or purchasing any firearms.

The FRO helps family members and law enforcement protect a loved one who is dangerous to themselves or others by temporarily prohibiting them from accessing guns. It requires temporary removal of firearms from the subject of the order and prohibits new purchases for the duration of the order. This creates safer circumstances for the individual to seek treatment, stabilize their behavior, or access resources to address the underlying causes of their dangerous behaviors.”

To compound all of these issues, it has also recently been reported that some states are reporting spikes in suicide hotline calls during this period.  The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence also recently put out a report on preventing firearm suicide.  I encourage you to definitely give it a read.  Here in Illinois according to the report, suicides make up 39% of Illinois firearm deaths.

While we all look forward to the passing of social distancing, and quarantines, and the pandemic of COVID-19, we must remember that Chicago will still be left with an epidemic of violence that we have been fighting for some time now. Perhaps the end of the quarantine, and the re-emergence of us all into “normal” society will be a perfect time to think about the policies and practices that we currently have in place, and if they are ideal to achieve the society we want.  The sad fact is that when this is all said and done, not only will Chicago still have it’s gun violence problem to face, but the problem could potentially be worse due to reactions to COVID-19, and that is completely unacceptable.


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