Almost 5,000 more people were murdered in the United States in 2020 than in 2019. A 30% jump in just one year, the biggest rise since the country began keeping track six decades ago. It is still a long way from the worst days of the 1990s, when the total number of homicides was still 30% higher, but it is impossible not to wonder why this is happening. There are many answers and almost all of them are partly right.
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One of the main explanations for this extraordinary rush of murders is that 2020 was certainly an extraordinary year, the year of the pandemic. With the confinements, a good part of the crimes in general fell substantially: thefts, for example, fell almost 8%, probably because it is more difficult to steal when everyone is at home. Nevertheless, From the first moment it was seen that the homicides were going to go in the opposite direction.
First are the economic effects of the pandemic. Some studies They have detailed all the ways in which a bad economy increases the number of violent crimes and the list is a description of 2020: unemployment, falling GDP, increasing poverty … but also COVID-19 brought a general deterioration of mental health in the United States and put more difficult receive professional care. That tension and lack of patience that we all see is also reflected in crime statistics, where the most common cause of a homicide in 2020 was an argument that began with an insult.
Guns, politicians and police
Everyone more or less agrees on the effects of the pandemic on the increase in murders, but the political debate it goes by other ways. Democrats speak of limiting the right to carry pistols and rifles, since in 2020 the percentage of murders committed with a firearm rose ten points, already more than 75%. Republicans, for their part, will pull an electoral argument that has rarely failed them: what is needed is a stronger hand and more police. Both have data in their favor, but also some against.
It is true that 2020 was a record-breaking year in the arms sale in United States. Instability is the best ally of this business and there was a lot: the pandemic, the post-election chaos, the mass demonstrations … Researchers have shown that there is relationship between the possession of weapons and the number of homicides, but it is not clear that this manifests itself immediately after the purchase, but later. So, as much as the Democrats want it, rising gun sales don’t explain the 2020 murder spike.
Republicans have their alternative explanation. They say that movements against police racism have led the police to “be afraid to act” and that this is the key to the increase in violent crimes. Yes it is true that there are studies that point to a rise in homicides in cities where such protests have been most active, but when conservatives attack the “soft” policies of big cities (almost always governed by Democrats) that is where their argument breaks down.
The increase in homicides has been national, it has not focused on large cities that are also very far from the death toll they managed in their worst days. In 1990 between New York and Los Angeles they concentrated 13.8% of the murders in the US and now only 3.8%. It is true that in just one year New York has seen these crimes rise from 319 to 500, but in 1990 it had 2,200. With these data, Trump’s argument for the “chaos of Democratic cities” does not make much sense.
The political battle is raging, but the solution to the problem is far from clear. Americans are increasingly worried due to the increase in crime, but at the same time they do not believe that the solution is to put more police on the street, which is precisely what the Republicans advocate. What is certain is that it will be an issue that receives more and more attention because, in addition to the spectacular increase in 2020, so far in 2021 the number of murders committed in the United States continues to rise.