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Will a return to normal post-pandemic mean a return of mass shootings?

On March 11, President Joe Biden announced on live TV the purchase of 100 million more one-shot vaccines, and that every adult in the U.S. would be eligible to receive a vaccination by May 1—this, as shots in arms were already increasing, and COVID-19 rates steadily declining. Coupled with the emerging springtime around the nation, it felt like a turning point in our dark age: that the unremitting blues of quarantine might soon be replaced by reunions with loved ones, recreational travel, and the familiar summer joys of baseball games and backyard barbecues.

Five days after that promising primetime address, eight people were shot dead in Atlanta-area spas. A few days later, 10 were killed in a grocery store shooting in Boulder, Colorado. The country was forced to face familiar, albeit perhaps temporarily forgotten, territory: two mass shootings within a week, for the first time since the pandemic lockdown began.

The Atlanta attack was exactly a year to the day since the last mass shooting occurred, defined using the FBI’s metrics as a single shooting in which four or more people are killed. The span of the pandemic so far produced no such events, a true anomaly (though before the pandemic began, 2020 already had two). Before that, in 2019, there were 10; in 2018, 12; and in 2017, 11. Now, the happy anticipation of emerging from lockdown could be tempered by a return of such horrific incidents. Public spaces spell more opportunity for gun violence in crowds, and that, combined with a record number of gun sales and persistent economic woes exacerbated by the pandemic, creates a ripe climate for these very specific acts of violence.

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