Mason Criminologist Part of Study Team Linking COVID-19 Containment Measures to Firearm Violence

by Anne Reynolds

Mason Criminologist Part of Study Team Linking COVID-19 Containment Measures to Firearm Violence

Beidi Dong, assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society, focuses his research on community violence (especially gun violence) in the United States, as well as health disparities and inequities as a consequence of crime, violence, and punishment. He recently brought this expertise to a team seeking an understanding of an increase in firearm violence since March 2020. 

This research team, led by Jessica H. Beard, MD, MPH, FACS, assistant professor of surgery and director of trauma research at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM), and comprising researchers largely drawn from the medical field, has published its findings that a correlation exists between an increase in firearm injuries in Philadelphia and the containment measures that city enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

“When I was a postdoc, I was in an interdisciplinary research center, the Penn Injury Science Center, with researchers from all different backgrounds, including epidemiologists, trauma surgeons, nurses, and criminologists,” said Dong. “After I joined Mason, we have continued to work together to address violence and injury-related issues, especially gun violence and associated disparities and inequities issues. I was the criminologist on this study.” 

Using the Philadelphia Police registry data of shooting victims from January 1, 2016 through November 26, 2020, the team determined when the spike in firearm violence began. They found that there were 7,159 individuals shot in the city during the 256 weeks included in the study, with an average of 25 individuals shot per week prior to March 16, 2020, when Philadelphia enacted public health policies to contain the transmission of COVID-19. In the weeks after those policies were put into place, the average number of individuals shot per week climbed to 46. The team’s time-series analysis indicated a strong association between the enactment of the COVID-19 containment policies and the increase in firearm violence. 

“The sustained nature of the increase in firearm violence following the COVID-19 containment policies may be associated with high levels of social and economic distress, particularly in lower-income, racially segregated communities where the shootings are most concentrated,” said Dong.  

These findings have been reported in a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association

“The lives of Americans were turned upside down in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic and the untimely death of George Floyd,” said Allison Redlich, associate chair, Department of Criminology, Law and Society. “Dr. Dong’s and his colleagues’ study of firearm violence provides much needed insight into the impact of these events. The Criminology, Law and Society department congratulates Dr. Dong on this very important research.”