America has long grappled with gun violence, and experts are predicting 2021 is on track to be one of the deadliest years of gun violence in two decades. In Indianapolis, more than 130 people have been killed since January, 30 more than this time last year. IU criminal justice professor Thomas Stucky says crime like thefts and burglaries decreased during the pandemic, but people feeling like they need to carry a firearm likely has increased. When talking about gun violence, Stucky says many people turn to the police to solve the issue. Stucky, previously a police officer, says that research shows police play an important role, particularly in identifying illegal firearms and getting those out of the hands of people who should not possess them. They can also identify hotspots – places where crime and violence are much more common – and then focus their resources on that area. However, although police play an important role Stucky says research tells us that powerfully effective strategies for preventing gun violence are actually not police-related. Preventing the situations in which gun violence is more likely is crucial, particularly creating alternative ways to resolve disputes. One option, he says, is to create programs that include violence interrupters, people who work with communities on ways to resolve conflict without using violence. Additionally, Stucky said the focus should be on mental health treatment and preventative activities such as social work and substance use treatment to reduce the trauma associated with gun violence. Finally, Stucky says we should be focused on the number of firearms that are available and increase attention on keeping guns out of the wrong hands. Stucky said in the United States, regardless of how someone feels about the Second Amendment or particular policies, the reality is we have a tremendously large supply of firearms. All else being equal, Stucky says, if you have more conflict, more trauma and more firearms, you're going to see more violence. While research-based solutions to addressing gun violence are known, Stucky says getting them to be implemented effectively is a challenge. He says it will take both short-term and long-term solutions and an effort to implement the solutions and find resources to make headway against the problem of U.S. gun violence.
In other news, a study from IU researchers found that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted just about every aspect of our daily life, including our mood online. Researchers analyzed Twitter timelines for users in 20 metropolitan areas from January to July 2020 and found a linear relationship between worsening COVID-19 city data and online sentiment. The group compared changes in Twitter sentiment over time across the cities and correlated declines in well-being with COVID-19 infection rates, population, population density, and city demographics, showing that COVID-19 infections led to significant drops in well-being. Researchers discovered the relationship was strongly affected by the demographics of the respective cities. In fact, residing in predominantly white cities had a strong and persistent protective effect against COVID-19-related negative mood. Researcher Johan Bollen says real-time quantification and tracking of how socio-economic changes impact communities can help shape public policy and lead to more equitable outcomes. The researchers plan to develop more fine-grained, real-time systems to track not just well-being but also a variety of indicators of health and mental health across the spectrum.