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America Marked Memorial Day Weekend with a Deluge of Mass Shootings

But one weekend of tragedies doesn't tell us much about the summer ahead.
June 3, 2016, 5:15pm
Police block the intersection at Wycliffe and Apple Tree as they respond to a shooting where authorities say a gunman and at least one other person are dead, Sunday, May 29, 2016, in Houston. (Gary Fountain/Houston Chronicle via AP

Over the past seven days, America witnessed nine mass shootings that left one dead and 43 wounded. These attacks bring the US mass shooting body count so far in 2016 to 112 dead and 443 injured. Meanwhile, Europe suffered zero mass shootings last week, holding the continent's body count in such attacks this year steady at 20 dead and 66 injured.

All of the recent mass shootings in the United States came over the long Memorial Day weekend, with three of them directly linked to holiday cookouts. Only one of these attacks received significant attention: military veteran Dionisio Garza III's random rampage on Sunday in Houston, Texas, during which he allegedly fired off more 200 rounds starting at 10:15 AM, killing a 56-year-old man and wounding a Good Samaritan who tried to intervene, along with two responding deputies, and three bystanders before being gunned down by a SWAT shooter. However, the weekend's bloodshed started hours earlier, at 12:30 AM in Trenton, New Jersey, when at least one shooter injured six people en route to a cookout. Two-and-a-half hours later, a shooting in an Indianapolis parking garage injured four more. Then, at about 6 AM, a street altercation in Las Vegas led to a shootout that injured yet another four individuals. Finally, at about 12:25 PM in Zillah, Washington, people believed to have bene hunting birds accidentally wounded five orchard workers when firing through a grove of trees.

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The carnage carried over to Monday, Memorial Day proper, with two drive-by shootings at cookouts in Baltimore, Maryland, and Sacramento, California, both of which left five injured. The violence trickled into the wee hours of Tuesday morning as well; at about 12:30 AM, an attack on a girl's house party in Fort Wayne, Indiana, left four teens injured. About an hour later, a street shooting in Chicago injured four more.

Although the spate of violence surrounding Memorial Day was tragic, given what we know about American mass shootings trends, it was not entirely unpredictable. As James Alan Fox, an expert on large scale gun violence at Northeastern University, told VICE about a month ago, any occasion that gets more people out on the street increases the chance shooters will find folks they want to shoot, and that bystanders might be injured. Warm weather draws out a fair number of people already; add a holiday known for communal gatherings on a weekend (which already tend to be cluster points for mass shootings), and it stands to reason you dramatically increase the probability of tragedy.

It's possible that the holiday even played a role in Garza's rampage. Associate director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center Deborah Azrael told VICE back in February that large, random attacks like his are actually less common on weekends than most mass shootings. But they do tend to occur when shooters know people will be gathered in public spaces.

This doesn't mean that a warm summer guarantees a bloody Fourth of July or Labor Day. There's still a degree of randomness in mass shootings. We had a bloodier week than this one, for example, at the end of April, with 13 mass shootings—including the Piketon, Ohio, massacre—leaving 15 dead and 44 injured. Yet that week was cooler than this one, with not a holiday in sight and a fair chunk of the violence occurring on weekdays rather than weekends.

We could have a bloody summer, a calm one, or chaotic peaks and troughs of violence where we'd least expect them. That's arguably more troubling than a guaranteed summer of violence, as randomness has a tendency to lull us into a false sense of security when it contradicts feared outcomes, and then to bite us with the unexpected and unmanageable. So while we're likely to see some nasty peaks of carnage in the coming weeks, if we don't, we can't let down our guard. Because the threat of a sudden and catastrophic mass shooting is always out there, casting a shadow over American life.

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.