Since 1968, more Americans have been killed by guns on US soil than the number of Americans killed in all US involved wars, combined.

The Covid-19 pandemic is coming to a likely end in the United States but its gun violence epidemic is picking back up, a reality brought into view with the gunning down of ten people at a mall in Boulder, Colorado on Monday and the attack on several spas in Atlanta, Georgia six days earlier, which left eight people dead.

These attacks register as the 100th and 101st mass shooting incident in the country since the start of the year and count among at least seven mass shootings in the past week, including three incidents on Saturday alone, leaving eight people dead and 33 injured not including the Atlanta and Boulder attacks.

Last year saw the fewest number of mass shootings in a decade, with 2020 recording 22 percent fewer incidents compared with the year prior, which criminologists attribute to lockdown and social distancing measures implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic. The new year, however, has brought a level of violence and death that Americans have become all too familiar with.

During the months of January and February alone, there were 73 mass shootings, 3,045 gun deaths and 5,300 gun injuries, along with an estimated 3,960 gun related homicides, according to the Gun Violence Archive

More Americans have now been killed by guns on US soil since 1968 than the number of Americans killed in all US involved wars, combined – representing 1.5 million deaths, at rate of roughly 30,000 per year.

Why? Because to put it plainly – the greater number of firearms a country owns, the greater number of deaths that country will realise, as demonstrated by Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center, which took data from 26 countries and found that those with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide, and that “this relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty).”

American households are now home to nearly half of the world’s total firearms, despite representing only 5 percent of the global population. Its rate of gun ownership is 2.5 times greater than Yemen, a country that has been mired in a 6-year-long civil war, and 5 times greater than most European countries, according to the Small Arms Survey

That there are more guns than people in the United States is why its rate of gun violence dwarfs its Western democratic peers, with the US recording 29.7 firearm homicides per one million population, compared to Germany with 1.9 per one million population, Australia with 1.4 per million population and neighbouring Canada with 5.1 per million population, according to the UNODC.

In fact, the gun homicide rate in the US resembles that of foreign war zone, with the US recording a higher rate of violent gun death in 2017 than Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Worryingly, the future promises to hold far more violence and bloodshed than the past, as the Covid-19 pandemic caused a dramatic spike in firearm sales during 2020. In the three-month period from March to May last year, gun sales spiked 64 percent, representing an excess 2.1 million purchases, according to the University of California Firearms Violence Research Center (UCFVC). 

A study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation found that nearly five million Americans purchased a firearm for the first time during the first seven months of 2020.

According to its research, 76 percent of people who purchased a gun during the pandemic cited concerns of pandemic-caused civil unrest and government collapse, along with fears of tighter gun control laws, as the motivation for their purchase.

“Surges in firearm purchasing, which acutely increase the prevalence of firearm ownership, have been well documented in association with mass shootings and significant political events and are followed by population-level increases in firearm violence,” observes the UCFVC.

In 2013, Boston University School of Public Health found that each percentage point increase in gun ownership correlated with a roughly 1 percent increase in the gun homicide rate, which means the excess 2.1 million gun purchases in the middle months of last year are likely to produce hundreds of more deaths over and above the number recorded in a typical year.

“It’s important to understand that the impacts of the pandemic have been much broader than the transmission of disease,” David Studdert, a public health expert at Stanford University, whose research focuses on guns and suicide, told the LA Times. “This increased sale of guns, the anxieties that drive it, and owners’ behaviour around guns – those are among the pandemic’s many shadow effects.”

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden urged Congress to tighten gun control laws, saying, “I will use all resources at my disposal to keep people safe,” but Senate Republicans, who worship at the altar of the gun lobby’s largesse, have previously blocked all efforts to impose even modest reforms, including mandatory background checks on semi-automatic weapons, which 91 percent of Americans support.

Mass shootings are a uniquely American phenomenon and there’s little reason to believe there will be an end to its gun violence epidemic soon – for this is a plague without a vaccine.

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