Violent crimes like murders have plagued the U.S. over the last two years, and many experts blame the fallout from the pandemic and 2020’s summer of protests and riots following the death of George Floyd.
The New York Times recently argued that 2020’s skyrocketing increase in legal gun purchases has also contributed to the spikes, an explanation experts are pouring cold water on.
"First off, let's go back 30 years," the Heritage Foundation’s Charles Stimson told Fox News Digital in a phone interview this month. "For the last 27, 29 years, our country has had a dramatic decrease in violent crime. Violent crime peaked in 1992-93, and it has been on the wane ever since then — until recently.
"That and that alone rebuts [The New York Times’] argument that increased legal gun ownership has contributed to this spike in crime. What, they didn't do it for 30 years? Even though they bought tens of millions of guns between 92 and now."
Stimson was reacting to an April 17 piece published by The New York Times detailing the increase in violence seen in the U.S. since 2020. The article attributed three reasons to help explain the increase in violence, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption to daily life it brought, as well as the "high-profile police killings of 2020 and the protests that followed."
"And Americans bought a record number of guns in recent years." the article stated as the third explanation.
Gun sales had a banner year in 2020, with an estimated 23 million firearms sold and more than 21 million gun background checks conducted. The numbers smashed records, and notably spiked at the onset of the pandemic in March, before jumping yet again in June of that year as protests and riots spread across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd.
"The guns that Americans bought remain in circulation. While COVID cases have plummeted and lockdowns have ended, new variants are still disrupting social services and life in general," The New York Times story states.
The argument that more gun purchases contributed to the murder spike was also floated by The Atlantic earlier this year, but experts at the Heritage Foundation explained that correlation is not causation.
"The short answer is that there is absolutely no statistical evidence to that effect showing some causal relationship" between the increase in gun purchases and increase in violent crimes, the Heritage Foundation’s Amy Swearer told Fox News Digital.
Swearer explained that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced the highest number of guns that year and added that "the overall number of short ‘time-to-crime’ guns traced increased in 2020." Time-to-crime refers to the time period between the first retail sale of a firearm and the recovery of the gun from a crime. The number of short "time-to-crime" guns recovered nearly doubled in 2020 compared to 2019.
Swearer directed Fox News Digital to an article published by FiveThirtyEight and The Trace in late 2021, which detailed that law enforcement officials typically view shorter time-to-crime windows as indicative a gun was purchased with criminal intent.
What’s important to note, Swearer said, is that though the number of short time-to-crime guns recovered increased, the size of the increase was not abnormal and "the overall percentage did not" increase compared to previous trends.
Dr. Garen Wintemute of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis investigated a possible relationship between 2020's gun sales and the increase in crime and found none.
"Instead, [researchers] concluded that unemployment, economic disparity and physical distancing exacerbated by the pandemic were far more potent predictors of increased violence," the FiveThirtyEight article notes.
Another expert, Julia Schleimer, a researcher in the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, said that the gun sale surge "may have contributed to a surge in crime." But she noted that it’s also possible "that the increase in gun sales is not solely responsible for the increase in short time-to-crime recoveries."
Swearer said the pandemic and lockdowns had many Americans questioning, for the first time, if they could protect themselves, leading to the gun sales increase.
"A lot of people were looking around, especially early on, and getting that first sense … of ‘I actually don't know that if something happens the government will be there to protect me,’" Swearer said. She noted that the pandemic prompted police departments to change policies in how to respond to emergency calls and response times lagged as a result.
She explained that this triggered many people who had not previously owned a gun, such as women and minorities, to purchase a firearm. Similar to Stimson, Swearer pointed to America’s history of gun ownership and said that it’s not as if before the pandemic the U.S. have "restrictive gun ownership laws."
"There were prior to that, still 400 million privately owned guns, a thriving black market for criminal guns all before the pandemic. In the years leading up to 2020's crime spike, Americans were buying on average well over a million guns a month," she said.
Fox News Digital reached out to The New York Times for data backing up the argument that increased gun sales contributed to the crime surge and was directed to The Trace’s data. A previous article from The New York Times on the surging violence also pointed to a Harvard study that found where there are more firearms, there are more gun crimes.
The Trace’s data shows gun sales spiked at the start of the pandemic with nearly 2 million guns sold, then spiked again in June 2020 as protests and riots spread across the nation in response to Floyd’s killing, resulting in about 2.5 million guns sold. Another spike was seen in January 2021, at more than 2.4 million guns sold, when the Capitol insurrection unfolded and as President Biden took office.
Stimson told Fox News Digital that the "idea that this spike in crime has anything to do with legal purchases of weapons or people exercising their Second Amendment rights is hogwash."
"Any prosecutor, defense lawyer, judge — and I've been all three — will tell you that the vast majority of violent crimes are not committed by people who lawfully purchased their guns. They have burner guns, they buy guns on the street, they steal guns. They're not going to the gun show with their kids and their wife and their Labrador retriever, with their red white and blue flag on their car," he said.
Stimson said "the left’s focus on trying to reduce the number of guns" is a "head fake to focus your attention on the inanimate object, as opposed to figuring out how to hold the criminal accountable at every stage of the criminal justice process."
"Guns are inanimate objects. Just like hammers, just like a knife, just like a rope, just like a throwing star," he said. "There is not one gun that has committed a crime in this country. There are criminals."
Murders skyrocketed by nearly 30% in 2020 compared to the year prior and disproportionately affected the Black community. Black murders spiked by 32% that year compared to 2019 and by 43% when compared to the prior 10-year average, according to FBI data previously reported by Fox News Digital.
Estimates show murders in 2021 remained high, at about 6.9 murders per 100,000 people that year. Major cities across the nation reported an increase in murders, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. Experts Fox News Digital previously spoke to explained that the protests and riots of the summer of 2020 and the "Ferguson Effect" contributed to the spike in violence that year.
"Certainly, the protests and riots mid-2020 after the death of George Floyd followed a pattern of spiking violence that we've seen following past viral police incidents, such as the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. This pattern has been termed the ‘Ferguson Effect’ — police pull back while violent crime spikes precipitously," Hannah Meyers, director of the policing and public safety initiative at the Manhattan Institute, previously told Fox News Digital.
The Ferguson Effect was first coined in November 2014 and gained widespread attention in 2016 after the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal arguing the effect is one "where the Black Lives Matter narrative about racist, homicidal cops has produced virulent hostility in the streets." Mac Donald told Fox News Digital that the spike of 2020 was due to Black Lives Matter and defund the police movements that swept the nation, not the pandemic.
Stimson agreed that it's "false" to say that crime increased "as a result of COVID," and pointed to "rogue" prosecutors in certain areas of the country and defunding the police rhetoric.
"It is where you have the toxic trio of defund the police, or rhetoric about defunding the police demoralizing the police ... And then the elections of these rogue prosecutors who enact pro-criminal, anti-victim policies. In those cities, violent crime has gone up. Lots of crime has gone up. And they are panicking because now it's very clear that is their policies," Stimson said.