The COVID-19 Pandemic, Stay-at-Home Orders, and Gun Violence: A Story of Two Cities

AuthorDae-Young Kim
Published date01 August 2022
Date01 August 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(7) 711 –731
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221088742
The COVID-19 Pandemic,
Stay-at-Home Orders,
and Gun Violence: A Story
of Two Cities
Dae-Young Kim1
This study examines the impact of the pandemic on gun violence in Philadelphia and
Washington DC. Interrupted time-series analysis is used to examine weekly data from
January 2017 to March 2021. Robust diagnostic checks confirm the validity of the
fitted models. There were significant increases in gun violence during the pandemic,
especially in the staged relaxation of social distancing. The timing of the increases in
gun violence varies by location and fatality. Criminal justice agencies should place more
attention and reallocate resources on gun violence in a timely manner in the volatile
state of the nation. Finally, this study concludes with a discussion of the findings,
limitations, and implications for future research.
COVID-19, gun violence, pandemic, stay-at-home orders, relaxation of social
Since the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in December 2019 in China, it has expo-
nentially spread to other countries. The United States is not an exception. As of March
2021, there have been almost 30 million confirmed cases, and more than 540,000
people have died of COVID-19 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020).
Besides the vaccination and medical approach, U.S. governments have imposed vari-
ous containment measures to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission, ultimately
1The State University of New York, Buffalo State College, USA
Corresponding Author:
Dae-Young Kim, The State University of New York, Buffalo State College, 1300 Elmwood Avenue,
Buffalo, NY 14222, USA.
1088742CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221088742Criminal Justice Policy ReviewKim
712 Criminal Justice Policy Review 33(7)
flattening the curve. The implementation of the stay-at-home (SAH) order and social
distancing policies resulted in the closing of nonessential workplaces, restaurants,
schools, and borders. The negative consequences of the pandemic and containment
measures inflicted upon individuals are well documented in the media, scientific jour-
nals, and government reports (Pew Research Center, 2020; World Health Organization
[WHO], 2020). For example, there were significant increases in unemployment (Falk
et al., 2020), alcohol consumption (Pollard et al., 2020), and social isolation (Clair
et al., 2021), and many individuals experienced increased stress and struggled with
new or preexisting mental and behavioral problems (Clair et al., 2021).
There have been significant increases in gun violence across the United States dur-
ing the pandemic (Donaghue, 2020; Everytown Research & Policy, 2021).
Policymakers have been struggling with COVID-19 and gun violence. Despite the
seriousness of these public health crises, little research has been available on the
impact of the pandemic on gun violence, and its findings offered no simple, consistent
conclusion (Abrams, 2020; Campedelli, Aziani, et al., 2020; Kim, 2022a; Kim &
Phillips, 2021; Rosenfeld & Lopez, 2020), warranting further research endeavors.
Focusing on crime data from two cities, Philadelphia and Washington DC, this study
explores whether gun violence increased during the pandemic and when and how
much such changes occurred between the SAH order and relaxation of social distanc-
ing. Both cities experienced significant increases in gun violence in the pandemic era,
especially during the relaxation of social distancing. The timing of such increases dif-
fers by location and fatality. The comparison of both cities allows us to examine
whether the effects of the pandemic were limited to a particular city or not. Finally, this
study concludes with a discussion of implications for further research and policy.
Literature Review
Theoretical Backgrounds
Strain theory is useful to discuss an increase in gun violence during the pandemic
(Agnew, 2006; Merton, 1938). It expounds on how crime is associated with three types
of strain: the failure of accomplishing monetary success, presentation of negatively
valued stimuli, and removal of positively valued stimuli. Individuals commit crimes as
a result of experiencing these types of strain. During the pandemic, individuals were
exposed to various negative life events. Unemployment has been one of the biggest
negative stimuli to which most individuals and families were exposed. In Philadelphia,
there was a significant increase in the unemployment rate from 6.7% in March to
18.4% in June 2020, and in DC, from 5.2% to 8.9% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
2021). Due to the mandatory closure of nonessential workplaces, many individuals
were laid off and had difficulty in making ends meet. Individuals may turn to gun
violence out of strain and/or anger when there are few or no legitimate opportunities
to achieve culturally valued goals, including job security and wealth (Merton, 1938;
Messner & Rosenfeld, 2006). In addition, the pandemic caused a significant increase
in alcohol use (The Nielsen Company, 2020; Pollard et al., 2020). To deal with the
stress of financial hardship and social isolation, individuals were drinking more than

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