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'Act of desperation': King County sees an increase in gun violence

King County Prosecutor's Office
In the first six months of 2020, more people were shot in King County than in any of the previous four years over the same time period.

COVID-19 has slowed down things like the economy and travel, but it has not had the same effect on gun violence.

In King County, from January this year through the end of June, 140 people were shot and 36 of those cases resulted in fatalities. That’s a 44 percent increase in gun deaths from this same period last year.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says people think that using a gun will calm down a situation when, in fact, it often has the opposite effect.

“I think violence is an act of desperation. And it's a lot of anxiety and depression and fear and anger right now," Satterberg said. "And you put a gun in the hands of somebody who's feeling desperate and bad things happen."  

In the first six months of 2020, King County saw a 44 percent increase in homicide victims by firearms over the same time last year. 36 people were shot to death. Most of the victims were men of color, nearly half under the age of 25- a trend that has held steady for years.

Things did not slow down in July. According to the prosecutor's office, through Friday, July 28, Harborview Medical Center saw 44 people with gunshot wounds, almost double from that same period last year.

A variety of scenarios account for how guns were used in the cases that make up this new data. These include domestic violence, gang activity and people using guns to settle fights. One statistic that has sadly stayed constant over many years: most victims of these shootings are men of color. Almost half of them are under 25 years old.

Similar trends are being seen throughout the country. The spike in gun violence also correlates with an increase in gun sales. According to a report by the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think tank, between March and June of this year, almost 3 million more guns than average for that time period were sold.

In King County, the overall number of crime scene investigations, many of which involve homicides, is higher than normal for the year.

“Our average of the last couple of years has been around 80 to 90 investigations a year," Satterberg said. "To date, we've done 88. So we're almost at the full year average of crime scene investigations. And it's August.”

Satterburg fears that in the calls to defund police departments, there will be reduced capacity for law enforcement to help communities that are most impacted by violent crime, and that those impacted communities are often communities of color.

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.