A couple of things do seem clear. One is that too many Americans are using guns in situations that don’t call for firepower — like moving the gifts at a baby shower, or getting cut off on I-95 — because too many Americans have guns in the first place. That 30% rise in murders happened during a 2020 in which 40 million Americans — a roughly 40% increase — bought guns, and 2021 has seen no slowdown, thanks in part to the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill. Thus, reducing guns will need to be part of any solution, even though most of the current gun-control proposals largely tinker on the margins, and lawmakers struggle to pass even these.
The other obvious takeaway is that if murder, 2020s-style, is increasingly a matter of people’s inability to control their anger — because of social alienation that only grew worse during the pandemic, or because of frustration over politics or a changing culture or their economic plight — then the traditional tough-on-crime solutions like “broken windows policing” or targeting neighborhoods or tougher sentencing won’t do much good. This might be the moment to take up some Republicans on their occasional cries that mass shootings are a mental-health issue by both investing more money in traditional mental health programs to also look more broadly at what can be done to reduce societal anger and the need for retribution.
The new numbers “suggest that we need to try a lot of things here,” [crime analyst Jeff] Asher told me, adding that some ideas will likely fail but with the idea that “if they fail, fail quickly” so that different approaches can then be tried. The only thing that absolutely will not work is burying our collective heads in the sand. No, America does not have a new crime problem. But when people are turning baby showers into firing ranges, we definitely have a gun violence problem, and a murder crisis that comes with it. The sooner our society agrees on this, the sooner we can solve this.