Gun crime decreased as firearm sales increased in 2020

As gun sales in the United States increased in 2020, reports of violent gun crime dropped dramatically from the year before.

John Lott, a gun rights advocate and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, argued the inverse correlation between gun sales and gun crime shows many people misunderstand the role of weapons.

"It is pretty shocking to me how we have all this discussion out there with these public health people and a lot of the media talking about gun sales as being responsible for the increased crime, and it's like they haven't even looked at the number of crimes committed with guns," he told the Washington Examiner.

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2020 saw a nearly 65% increase in gun sales from 2019, with roughly 13.9 million guns sold in the U.S. in 2019 and 23 million in 2020, according to an analysis by Small Arms Analytics. Lott cited background check data that also showed a significant uptick in gun sales in 2020 in a recent opinion piece for Townhall.

Despite the increase in gun sales, the estimated number of firearm victimizations declined from 481,950 in 2019 to 350,460 in 2020, according to a study by the Justice Department. Notably, murders with a gun increased during that period. Homicides with guns increased from 15,470 in 2019 to 19,486 in 2020, according to data from the Gun Violence Archives.

Lott expressed skepticism about how the Gun Violence Archives tracks gun deaths, arguing the group relied too heavily on media reports.

"They're focusing on the assaults, and they're focusing on the increase in murders that occurred, and they're blaming that for various reasons on the pandemic," he said.

But he acknowledged gun deaths increased by at least 3% in 2020, referencing data he analyzed from the FBI, saying guns used to commit robberies and aggravated assaults decreased.

Lott also noted the decrease in overall violent gun crime took place as violent crime across the U.S. increased during the pandemic.

"But the point is even though those types of crimes increased, the number of crimes involving guns fell dramatically. And so they can't go and say that the increase in aggravated assaults and murders were due to the increase in availability of guns for criminals," he said.

Lott said he believes the U.S. has a drug gang problem, arguing guns are only related to about 8% of total violent crime in the U.S. and that the country should focus on all violent crime, not just gun-involved crime.

"If you look at the distribution of murders in the United States, over half the murders occur within 2% of the counties," he said. "What you need to do to reduce gun crime is the same thing you need to do to reduce violent crime. You go and arrest more people. You give more money to police. You go and put criminals in jail for a longer period of time. But we've been doing the exact opposite."

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The U.S. recorded one of its largest single-year increases in homicides during 2020, rising to 21,570, NPR reported. This marked an increase of 4,901, or roughly 29%, from 2019. Violent crime overall, such as assault, murder, robbery, and rape, increased by about 5% from the prior year, according to the outlet.

Data for crime in 2021 is preliminary, but cities in the U.S. saw an uptick in key crime statistics. Numerous cities broke records for reported homicides, and major retailers said they experienced a surge in organized retail theft in major cities last year.

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