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Covid-19 and the impact on crime

The coronavirus pandemic has led to serious consequences on a global scale and BCU researchers are investigating its range of impacts on crime, from increased mass shootings in America to the rise of organised crime governance in Columbia, Mexico and Brazil.

Man loading a handgun

Gun sales and mass shootings during the pandemic

Craig Jackson, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at BCU, studied several archives on gun sales and gun-related violence in the US, and found that 2020 saw a rise in gun sales and mass shootings. 

Gun sales began increasing rapidly in the US in March 2020 at the inception of the pandemic, partially due to people being concerned that law and order may breakdown if the uniformed services became susceptible to coronavirus infection. 

This period also saw a significant rise in first-time buyers, who seemingly saw no need to possess a firearm before the threats surrounding the pandemic. This increase in sales was also compounded by the fact that the FBI and ATF, who run background checks on purchasers, were likely overwhelmed with applications, leaving the decision to sell the firearm up to the dealer’s discretion. 

Professor Jackson argues that this unprecedented rise in gun sales presents a unique opportunity to assess whether mass shootings increased accordingly with gun sales. 

‘With firearms sales increasing since 2019 in every single state (except Kentucky) we can look for relationships between mass shootings and states with relatively relaxed laws, the number of gun dealers, the number of ammo dealers, and rules around the concealed carrying of weapons.’ 

While in its early stage, Professor Jackson’s work presents an opportunity to analyse the complex mechanics behind mass shootings, taking both individual and external factors into account. 

‘This research acknowledges there are many causes of mass shootings, from individuals who seek fame and infamy; those who copy the acts of other shooters; politically motivated and ideological driven; deranged grievance collectors; and those who are generally disgruntled with society and who wish to lash out. 

‘While it is obvious the many causes and motivations for mass shootings lay within individuals, the societal influence of easier access to guns makes it more likely that those who have "thought" about mass shooting will graduate to actually undertaking mass shootings.’

Craig's research has garnered widespread media attention, and saw him write a piece in The Conversation regarding his work.

The rise of gang governance in Latin American communities

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided new opportunities for gangs and drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico to exert greater social control in local communities.

Collaborative research by Dr Camilo Tamayo Gomez and Dr Eddie Smith, analyst officer at The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for Latin America (UNODC), has revealed that a lack of support from government and local city councils has opened up avenues for gangs and cartels to provide aid and enforce infection prevention measures.

Dr Gomez said:

‘This new dynamic is increasing the legitimacy, power and social capital of gangs and drug cartels, helping them to co-opt civil society and the state to support their criminal operations.

‘The pandemic also shows how poverty and inequality remain fundamental in shaping the building of the nation-state, where criminals act as a de facto state even without the virus and, in many areas, effectively replace the state.’

The research focused on local ‘narco-gang’ governance in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. Across the three countries, gangs distributed food parcels, money and medicines, as well as imposing curfews to stop the virus spreading and encouraging people to wash their hands.

Gangs have even regulated crime in their territories, assisted in the implementation of health measures and suspended extortion payments from local businesses.

‘The aim is to create a strong emotional bond with the community to foster their criminal operations in the future. This dynamic reinforces the well-known Robin Hood myth for criminals in Latin America (noble thieves robbing the rich and helping the poor).’

-        Dr Camilo Tamayo GomezThe Conversation

Reporting in an article featured on The Conversation, Dr Gomez states that organised crime organisations have been preforming as governing bodies in Latin American communities since 1990, but the pandemic represents a significant and influential change in this strategy.

…the coronavirus crisis may represent a shift in this story. Drug cartels across Latin America have taken responsibility for providing welfare, security and a sense of certainty to the communities under their control. This is a direct result of the ineffectiveness of some states to effectively tackle the pandemic.’

Dr Gomez explains that these strategies allow crime organisations to co-opt the state, replacing certain government functions.

‘And so the present situation will allow political parties openly affiliated to organised-crime groups, such as the parapolitics parties in Colombia, to capitalise politically on future support from local communities assisted by illegal organisations during the pandemic.’