Why US gun violence spikes in warm weather

Published June 5, 2022
Newtown (Connecticut, US): People attend a march and rally against gun violence in Newtown on Saturday. A decade ago a gunman had killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the town.—Reuters
Newtown (Connecticut, US): People attend a march and rally against gun violence in Newtown on Saturday. A decade ago a gunman had killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the town.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: From the Texas school massacre to a Tulsa hospital shooting and many less-reported incidents, a recent spate of gun violence across America bears out a trend police departments have long sworn by: murders go up in warmer weather.

The link has been written about for decades by criminologists, with more recent research drilling down on the precise relationship between temperature and crime rates. For those who have studied the question, there are common sense as well as potentially less obvious mechanisms at play.

First, the more obvious: “It’s hard to shoot somebody if there’s nobody around,” David Hemenway, a professor of health policy at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said, explaining why gun crime is lower in bad weather.

A second, more controversial idea is that heat itself — as opposed to weather that encourages people to be out — might rev up conflict.

While there are many causes behind the rising tide of gun violence in the United States, weather could play an increasingly important role in world that is fast warming due to climate change.

Hemenway said he had long been interested in the relationship between heat and higher crime given stereotypes about the north-south divide within the United States and Italy, as well as between the northern European states of Scandinavia and southern Mediterranean countries.

In 2020, he co-wrote a paper in Injury Epidemiology led by his then-graduate student Paul Reeping examining the city of Chicago between 2012 and 2016.

The paper used reports from the Chicago Tribune to get the number of shootings per day, and then matched those against daily high temperature, humidity, wind speed, difference in temperature from historical average, and precipitation type and amount.

They found a 10 degree Celsius higher temperature was significantly associated with 34 percent more shootings on weekdays, and 42 percent more shootings on weekends or holidays. They also found a 10C higher than average temperature was associated with 33.8 percent higher rate of shootings.

In other words, said Hemenway, it’s not just heat that’s important, but relative heat: “In the winter, there were more shootings on those days which wouldn’t have been hot in the summer but were warm for winter.” Another recent paper, led by Leah Schinasi of Drexel University and published in the Journal of Urban Health in 2017, looked at violent crime in Philadelphia.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

Beyond the pale
09 Aug, 2022

Beyond the pale

A LINE has been crossed. Even in a toxic online environment where the bounds of decency are repeatedly transgressed,...
Burying Gaza
09 Aug, 2022

Burying Gaza

IT is a sad commentary on the politics of the Middle East that even its most tragic human stories get defaced and...
Celebrate the athlete
09 Aug, 2022

Celebrate the athlete

TALK about delivering on your promise: javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem did that in the grandest style at the...
An unseemly dispute
08 Aug, 2022

An unseemly dispute

THERE is clarity, but perhaps not of the kind that Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial hoped to achieve when...
Unfair on taxpayers
Updated 08 Aug, 2022

Unfair on taxpayers

Unfair move has drawn valid criticism as it coincides with drastic increase in income tax on salaried people and corporates.
Polio nightmare
08 Aug, 2022

Polio nightmare

AS if the resurgence of polio in southern KP were not enough, officials and international monitoring bodies must now...