Until Tuesday, when eight people were killed in Atlanta-area spas, it had been a year since there had been a large-scale shooting in a public place.
In 2018, the year that a gunman killed 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there were 10 mass shootings where four or more people were killed in a public setting.
The following year, when a gunman targeting Latinos in El Paso, Texas, killed 22 people, there were nine.
“Those were the worst years on record,” said Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., and a co-founder of the Violence Project, a research center that studies gun violence.
But before Tuesday’s horrifying attacks there had been no such killings since March 2020, when the pandemic forced most businesses, workplaces and schools to close, according to the Violence Project.
In early 2020, before the pandemic hit, there were two large-scale shootings, said Professor Peterson. In February, a gunman killed five of his co-workers at the Molson Coors campus in Milwaukee. The following month, a man killed four people at a gas station in Springfield, Mo.
Still, other types of gun violence increased significantly in 2020, according to Gun Violence Archive, which researches shootings. There were more than 600 shootings in which four or more people were shot by one person compared with 417 in 2019.
Many of those shootings involved gang violence, fights and domestic incidents, where the perpetrator knew the victims, Professor Peterson said. The early research suggests that widespread unemployment, financial stress, a rise in drug and alcohol addiction, and a lack of access to community resources caused by the pandemic contributed to the increase in shootings in 2020.
At the same, the news media’s focus on the coronavirus and the lack of high-profile mass shootings may have removed another contributing factor: the tendency of gunmen to mimic other killers who gain notoriety, Professor Peterson said.
She said that scholars were now worried that the intense attention on the Georgia shootings could contribute to an increase in similar crimes
“There had been a hope that maybe we broke the cycle and maybe we won’t return,” Professor Peterson said. “Now that it’s back, a number of scholars are really concerned.”