D.C. Homicide Numbers Haven't Dropped During COVID-19

Overall, it seems violent crime is down throughout most of the nation. That’s not surprising, actually. After all, most of us are locked down in our home, we’re not out and about to be victims of armed robberies. While other crimes seem to be up, violent crime is down in many other places.


It’s not down everywhere, though. For example, we know it’s not in Chicago. We can’t be completely sure why it’s not there while it is in other places, but it’s not.

It seems the District of Columbia is in the same boat.

D.C. has not gone a week without a homicide since Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public health emergency over the coronavirus pandemic on March 11.

There have been 17 murders in D.C. since the city saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 7, and 46 murders since the start of 2020, according to data from the Metropolitan Police Department. Despite a pandemic and orders from the mayor to stay inside, D.C. is on track to match its homicide rate from last year, when the city saw the highest murder count in a decade, at 166. And like last year, the overwhelming majority of homicides involved a gun.

There are now two co-occurring public health crises killing residents: COVID-19 and gun violence. The fear among some is that one could exacerbate the other. With the pandemic forcing businesses to close and creating joblessness, advocates worry that mounting anxiety can aggravate violent crime. While MPD has yet to see a change in behavior that can be credited to the pandemic and its rippling effects, those that work closely with offenders and victims believe it’s inevitable. Domestic homicides, for example, could very well increase.

MPD Chief Peter Newsham says most murders continue to involve individuals who are known to one another and where violence is used to settle disputes. A minor difference in recent shootings is that some of the victims were either selling or purchasing drugs.

“Our violent offenders, particularly the ones who are inclined to use firearms, are not particularly moved by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Newsham tells City Paper. “They will pick up an illegal firearm and use it whenever it suits their purposes and I think for them it’s business as normal.”


Let’s note that last sentence for a moment.

That’s right. They actually acknowledge that these are illegal firearms. While D.C. got slapped down by the Supreme Court over their handgun ban, other laws remain in full effect, particularly federal ones. What Newsham is saying is that those laws aren’t stopping the criminals, that they’re getting guns illegally and committing murder.

Look, violent crime is complicated. Simplistic solutions to complicated problems will never work and gun control is just that, a simplistic attempt at a solution for a complex problem. If people are willing to risk a virus to settle a dispute, they’re not going to care overly much about gun control laws in the first place.

Of course, I don’t expect this to sway anti-gunners. They’re not likely to be swayed.

But that doesn’t change the reality, nor the complexity inherent in a subject like violence.

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