Dr. Wintemute, of the University of California, said he recently tried to find out. He analyzed federal background check data from January 2018 through the first months of the pandemic. His research showed that more violence happened in states where gun purchases were up the most — but that many factors were at play, including lockdowns and job loss, and that it was not clear that gun sales in particular were the driver.
Nevertheless, he said, the buying surge was worrying, given just how sharp the rise in homicides was last year, up by a quarter, according to data from the F.B.I. An overwhelming majority of homicides in the United States are from guns. The jump has continued this year, up by about 18 percent in a sample of 37 cities in the first three months, compared to the same period last year. Historically, however, the rate is still far below the ones from the 1990s.
“We have just turned the corner into some really awful territory,” he said.
Homicides in Los Angeles rose 36 percent last year, and the city is seeing no let up in gun violence. Through mid-May, the number of shooting victims was up 68 percent, while the number of reported shots fired was up 56 percent.
Chief Michel Moore of the Los Angeles Police Department said it had recovered more than 3,000 guns through the end of April. He said that on average, officers in Los Angeles are recovering 25 guns per day, and that gun arrests are up by 60 percent this year.
“The number of guns out there is just astonishing,” Chief Moore said.
In the most recent mass shooting, two people were killed and at least 20 people injured in a shooting outside a banquet hall in Hialeah, Fla., early on Sunday, officials said. The police said three people arrived in a white Nissan Pathfinder, exited the vehicle and began firing into a crowd of people outside the hall.
Gun control advocates argue that more weapons in circulation means more Americans dying from guns, and that stronger regulations and gun buybacks would save lives. Gun rights advocates say restrictions end up obstructing law-abiding citizens and argue for more policing instead. Many Americans have expressed a hopelessness that the country will ever get a handle on the violence.
“There’s this fatalism,” said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, an epidemiologist who helped establish the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We’re so stuck,” he said, describing the thinking. “We have so many guns.”