Firearm violence in the US has been increasing since the start of the Covid pandemic, with particularly large increases in child injuries reported, according to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
The study, which looked at data from four major US cities, found that racial and ethnic disparities in all-age firearm injuries and deaths also appeared to have grown. However, little research had examined how pandemic-related increases in firearm assaults may have disproportionally affected Black, Hispanic, and Asian children.
Using data on firearm assaults with child injuries from 2015–2021 in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, the study found that child shootings during the study period totalled 2672.
The lowest rates were among non-Hispanic White children, whose rates did not increase during the pandemic. The highest rates were among non-Hispanic Black children, whose rates increased substantially. The Black-White disparity grew from a relative risk of 27.45 before the pandemic to 100.66 during the pandemic. Point estimates for Hispanic-White disparities tripled, and those for Asian-White disparities nearly tripled.
The pandemic was associated with nearly a two-fold increase in child firearm assault rates, and the estimated increase was largest in New York. The study estimated a pandemic-attributable increase of 503.5 child injuries across all cities from 15 March 2020 – 31 December 2021.
The concentration of firearm victimisation among Black, Hispanic, and Asian children must be addressed at the individual, community, and societal levels. The study’s authors emphasized the need to focus on community safety and mental health interventions in the most affected communities and to target structural racism as a fundamental driver of the US firearm violence epidemic.
The study has some limitations as it did not assess the causes of these changes. However, its results are broadly consistent with research identifying sharper pandemic-associated violence increases in neighbourhoods with less racial and economic privilege. Possible explanations include Covid’s exacerbation of inequities in access to health, employment, and educational resources.
In summary, this study highlights the need to address the disproportionate impact of firearm violence on Black, Hispanic, and Asian children during the Covid pandemic. The findings suggest that community safety and mental health interventions must be targeted in the most affected communities, and structural racism must be addressed as a fundamental driver of the US firearm violence epidemic.