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Startling surge in LA bloodshed as COVID-19 fades: 'Too many guns in too many hands'

Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Police say gangs were often to blame; disputes at homeless encampments were another major factor. Victims have included people shot during robberies, drivers randomly shot in their cars and pedestrians gunned down on the street. A 12-year-old girl was shot at an outdoor birthday party; a 6-year-old boy was shot at an apartment building.

Last week, a man allegedly went on a rampage through the city, killing two and wounding two others in five separate shootings before being killed by police. An off-duty LAPD officer was shot in Sherman Oaks, police said, after he found a man burglarizing his car, whom he shot. And police announced five arrests in the February shooting of Lady Gaga's dogwalker in Hollywood, an incident that highlighted an increase this year in the number of robbery victims being shot.

On Monday, LAPD detectives were investigating a morning shooting in Mid-City that left two men dead and a woman wounded, among other cases.

There are still far fewer shootings than there were in the 1990s in L.A., but scores more are dying than in more recent years, in the city and beyond.

Preliminary data from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department show that homicides in surrounding areas increased by more than 113% in the first three months of this year, with 64 killings, compared with 30 during the same period in 2020. Aggravated assaults with guns, including shootings, jumped 82% during that time, from 255 to 465.

At weekly meetings this year of the civilian Police Commission, LAPD Chief Michel Moore has lamented the violence, ascribing blame to the wide availability of guns, including homemade ones known as ghost guns, despite gun arrests this year being up more than 90%.

 

"It's frankly too many guns in too many hands," Moore told the commission recently.

Moore also noted that more than a dozen homicide victims this year were homeless and said the LAPD has linked much of the violence to the "interchange between gang violence and homeless encampments, where we've seen an increase in retaliation and in disputes involving persons experiencing homelessness and narcotics sales."

At the macro level, Moore has argued, the increased violence is inextricably linked to the pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on social safety nets and the economy, disrupted violence prevention efforts and blocked intervention workers from sitting at the bedsides of shooting victims, or next to their family members in emergency wards, to help prevent cycles of retaliation.

Police officials across the country have noted similar forces, as their cities — big and small, led by Democrats and Republicans — also suffer under surging gun violence. Criminologists have pointed to the pandemic, and its multitude of impacts, as the only common element across the country.

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