Myth that guns cause crime: Pandemic relief fraud tied to gangs, violent crime

When gun sales reached record-high levels during the pandemic, alarmist gun-grabbers pushed the narrative that this unprecedented proliferation in lawful gun ownership was somehow responsible for a subsequent spike in homicides and other crime.

The hypothesis that increased gun sales caused a corresponding increase in violent crime was later debunked. A 2021 study by anti-gun researchers, no less, “found no relationship between state-level excess purchasing and non-domestic firearm violence” and concluded that “the magnitude of the increase in purchasing was not associated with the magnitude of the increase in firearm violence.” In late 2021, The Trace, Michael Bloomberg’s pro-gun control “newsroom,” cited the study but nonetheless stuck to the first-blame-all-guns line, asserting that the “research we do have, though, shows that immediate booms in access to firearms almost always lead to corresponding spikes in violence.”

What has since come to light is quite a different pandemic crime relationship — specifically, the link between fraudsters and other kinds of crime. It now appears that millions of dollars in federal aid, intended to assist struggling businesses and those unemployed due to COVID-19, was diverted by crooks to fund gang activity, drug and weapon buys, and more. If anything, it was this surge in illegal misappropriations that contributed to upticks in crime.

For instance, a number of the defendants in COVID-19 CARES Act fraud cases in Maryland allegedly possessed illegal firearms. Erek L. Barron, the United States Attorney for Maryland who investigates and prosecutes pandemic relief-related fraud in that state, observed a strong correlation between violent crime and fraud, with “60% of violent criminals … also committing some type of COVID-19 fraud, and because of that, his office investigates every single violent crime target to see whether they’ve committed pandemic fraud.” This new focus resulted in a significant drop in violent crime in Baltimore, being a twenty percent reduction in homicides and a ten percent reduction in nonfatal shootings so far this year. “It’s become an automatic part of our violent crime strategy,” Barron says.

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An article by the Chicago Sun-Times quotes Michael C. Galdo, the director of COVID-19 fraud enforcement for the federal Justice Department, who echoes those findings. “We’ve repeatedly seen a connection between violent crime, violent criminal street gangs and the COVID fraud space throughout the country.” A federal official with Homeland Security Investigations adds, “It’s safe to make that leap between PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] funds going into gangs and funding their narcotics trafficking activity — and, to some extent, also gun purchases.” Gang members used their PPP money to buy guns from other gang members or from straw purchasers.

The Chicago Sun-Times reviewed over a dozen federal gun and drug cases in Chicago dating back to the beginning of the pandemic and found that the names of many defendants matched the names and addresses of individuals listed in PPP loan applications. Five PPP applicants were, allegedly, members of a Chicago street gang who have since been charged with violent racketeering activity tied to a fatal shooting in August 2020. Another instance the newspaper describes is a gang that “scammed millions of dollars from unemployment insurance” and used the money to buy machine guns, drugs, and (according to the government) to solicit a murder-for-hire.

In additional indicators that pandemic fraud, and not legal gun owners, has a closer relationship to criminal behavior, data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) indicates that this September was the 50th continuous month on record in which gun sales in NICS exceeded 1 million guns. Despite this continued climb in private gun ownership, the latest crime statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) show that homicides and other violent crimes (except carjackings) fell in 2022, to pre-pandemic levels.

Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but common sense alone would suggest that there’s no justification for automatically blaming honest lockdown gun buyers for crime. In fact, what many ordinary gun owners recall about the pandemic is not the stacks of easy cash or the opportunity to indulge in some runaway lawlessness, but how the crisis was exploited by gun-grabbing politicians to shut down fundamental Second Amendment rights.

© 2023 National Rifle Association of America, Institute for Legislative Action. This may be reproduced. This may not be reproduced for commercial purposes.

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