In a solemn effort to encapsulate the upsurge in gun-related violence, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that we are in the midst of a “covid crime wave.” The claim that the COVID-19 virus spiked aggression more than cell proteins has some merit. The FBI reports a 30 percent uptick in gun violence in 2020 versus 2019.

This is another way of saying that the virus has mutated its way into our society — we are talking about the contagion of psychological stress, the epidemic levels of hopelessness and depression. Brain chemistry gone awry. Not so good when mixed with a cocktail of bullets, lightly stirred. Across our landscape of enclaves, in poorer regions in particular, the jails, morgues, and domestic violence shelters are overflowing.

There were 39,000 injured or killed by gun violence in 2020 and gun sales were up a staggering 60 percent. That’s 23 million guns added to the American household arsenal, many of those weapons not purchased with protection in mind.

And let us not confuse our garden-variety racist gun nut with the remarkable uptick in homicides since the onset of lock-downs. For as much as we are “living in a fetishized version of the Wild West,” neither the numbing headlines of Robert Aaron Long’s rampage in Atlanta, nor more recently, Jacob Berquist’s gun fire at the Boise Towne Mall, figure significantly into that 39,000 number.

What does figure into the spike in gun sales though, is reflected in a comment made on Boise Mall’s Facebook site: “I can tell you a lot more Idahoans will start packing now as they should to protect themselves and their families.” Music to Charlton Heston’s ears.

While paranoia and fear has put a wide grin on the faces of those who invest in publicly traded gun manufacturers, the reality on American city streets is that children and teens are at least 15 times more likely to die from guns than on the streets of other developed countries. And it is this stark statistic that more closely touches upon the “covid crime wave.”

Because therein lies the irony: the young are not dying in great numbers from the dreaded virus itself, they are instead dying from the added stress, instability and chaos they experience in their homes and neighborhoods. Well before COVID-19 entered their front doors, their lives were painted along the margins of income and employment. Inside those walls, you’ll not find Mama sitting in her Ethan Allen club chair submitting quarterly reports from her MacBook Pro; rather, she is at the hotel cleaning rooms for a pittance that no longer covers rent.

In many communities, the needle has tipped into desperation. All this while the young in need of positive social contact are told to isolate. The economically strained states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota have seen a doubling of gun violence. Even Denver had a 50 percent increase in homicides in 2020.

Adding to the weight of COVID-19 are the scenes of white police officers using excessive force against minorities, and then we had George Floyd. The desperate snapped, and in the wake of the riots in Minneapolis the police station was reduced to ash. Trust in our institutions so eroded that Minneapolis (unsuccessfully) floated a ballot measure to remove their police department — as part of a much bigger “defund” movement.

COVID-19 comes along and enters unwelcome into a system of gross inequality with the ever-present threat of economic despair and frail communities run for cover under a hail of bullets. Why? I do believe in deeper reasons, and now is as good at time as any to wax philosophical. As a society it seems we’ve internalized a hell of a lot of pain. COVID-19 is an external sign of that pain.

And if that’s too much to step up to, too deep, there’s always the police state.

After years of globetrotting, Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found at US Renew News: usrenewnews.org.

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