6 April 2021
As this pandemic continues into its second year, it is hard to be cheerful and optimistic. In terms of silver linings, 2020 was likely a far better year for the environment. Climate change shifted into a lower gear and nature was able to take a deep breath. Many large industrial centres noted less smog with improved views, and many waterways were blessed with the reappearance of fish and whales.
The recent run of mass shootings in the United States reminded me that these previously common events were seldom spoken of in 2020. I took comfort, thinking that perhaps the pandemic has also led to reduced gun violence for our southern neighbors. Imagine my surprise when I researched the topic and learned that gunshot deaths climbed during 2020.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, about 45 000 Americans died of gun violence in 2020 compared to roughly 40 000 in 2019. In fact, shooting deaths in 2020 outpaced the next highest recent year (2017) by more than 3600. Last year, the United States noted the highest 1-year increase in homicides since they started keeping records.
Some claim that this is not a gun problem but a mental health issue. However, recently a man went on a rampage with a knife in North Vancouver, stabbing multiple victims and ending one woman’s life. I would argue that if this obviously disturbed individual had access to an assault rifle the toll would have been much higher.
COVID-19 mobilized the world, and the United States has been a leader in developing a vaccine to combat the pandemic. Imagine what could be accomplished if a fraction of the resources devoted to combating a virus were directed toward ending gun violence.
One fact that is often overlooked is that gun violence is a male problem. When was the last time you heard about a woman going on a shooting rampage with a semiautomatic weapon? Mass shooters are predominantly men who turn to violence as a means of solving some internal strife. Men must do better and learn to control their emotions without resorting to acts of aggression.
Lastly, before we feel too smug here in Canada, and specifically in our home province, we should look at another local epidemic. In 2020 there were approximately 1000 deaths in BC due to COVID-19. In comparison, more than 1700 individuals died of illicit drug toxicity (the majority from fentanyl).
The coronavirus pandemic has drawn significant attention and effort to fight it. Measures include regular briefings from the provincial health officer and health minister along with a mobilization of public health and health region resources. The population has tolerated previously unheard of restrictions with minimal complaint. I wonder what could be accomplished if similar efforts were directed toward the often-marginalized population of people who use drugs and the overdose crisis.
Forgive me for my pandemic musings, but this challenging time lends itself to reflection, and with that a desire for seeking hope amid the ruin. Sadly, we won’t find any uplifting change when it comes to gun violence and illicit drug deaths.
—David R. Richardson, MD
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