Over the past seven days, America witnessed eight mass shootings that left seven dead and 27 wounded. These attacks bring the US mass shooting body count so far in 2016 to 382 dead and 1,463 injured.
Meanwhile, Europe suffered one mass shooting over the same period of time, bringing the continent's mass shooting toll so far this year up to 53 dead and 165 injured.
Most of America's latest mass shootings followed tragically common patterns of large-scale gun violence in the United States and flew under the national radar. At about 3 PM last Friday, a shooting at a memorial service in Fresno, California, left four injured. At about 1 AM Sunday, a shooting at a Baltimore, Maryland, bar left five injured. Just over an hour later, a shooting on a crowd outside a store in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, left four more injured. At 6:20 PM that same day, a street shooting in Brooklyn, New York, left four injured. And at about 10 PM that night, another street shooting in Pine Hills, Florida killed one and injured four.
Another shooting at about 9 PM Monday on a North Highlands apartment in greater Sacramento, California, left four injured. And at about 7:15 PM Thursday, still another shooting at a home, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina, left two dead and two injured.
One incident at the start of last weekend was unusual and gruesome enough that it had potential to trigger at least some national scrutiny: At about 10:15 AM Friday, responders in Channelview, Texas, found a car on fire and discovered four dead bodies in the back seat and trunk. Autopsies revealed they had all been executed with gunshots to the head before the car was set aflame, likely in a failed attempt to destroy evidence. Execution-style shootings, especially on this scale of victims, are exceptionally rare—they seem more akin to gory, cinematic portrayals of American violence than to the tragic banality that actually claims most lives in US gun violence. Yet even with that dramatic resonance, the incident failed to get much traction nationally.
Meanwhile, Europe's sole mass shooting this week attracted a flurry of attention in the nation where it unfolded: Russia. Between 6 and 7 PM on Wednesday, a man in the town of Olsha, near Smolensk, set his own house on fire, then began torching his neighbor's home. When his neighbor came outside, the arsonist shot him dead with a rifle, then opened fire on random villagers gathering nearby, killing one. He then shot at firemen responding to put out the blazes as well, injuring three more people. Law enforcement subdued the man, but he still managed to shoot himself in the neck, later dying of his own wounds. Firefighters eventually found a woman, believed to be the shooter's mother, dead in his burned home, although as of publication it remained unclear if she'd been shot, died in the fire, or passed away before the incident.
This attack likely got some extra media coverage because it was a seemingly random rampage shooting. A rare iteration of large-scale gun violence, this is still the archetypal mass shooting in the eyes of many of us—it holds a special place in our fears because it is indiscriminate and unpredictable. And the perpetrators, who often get killed or commit suicide, are perhaps well known in their communities but have an air of the mysterious, encouraging the wider public to project strange, sinister motives onto them.
Watch President Obama react to mass shootings over the years.
Yet many of the mass shootings that fly under the radar in the US are also random, often hitting bystanders who were on the wrong street or in the wrong bar at the moment someone's rage or calculation exploded into gunfire. Many of these shooters likely have clear motives, but so many of them get away that their deluge of chaotic violence is its own mystery. Indeed, one might argue the grinding epidemic of large scale shootings in America is actually more haphazard and thus dangerous for the average citizen than headline-grabbing rampages.
It makes sense that we—or in this case, the Russian media—attend closely to rampage shootings, of course. They have clear, grim, and enticing narratives. They break patterns. They are unusual and therefore draw the eye. In attending to them disproportionately, though, we lend their perpetrators more power and terror than they should possess and minimize the tragedy of lives lost or forever altered by more common forms of mass shootings, especially in America, where they are particularly ubiquitous. Only by consciously breaking this habit of gawping dread and awe for one type of attack above all others and focusing our attention on more routine tragedies can we hope to address the menace of large-scale gun violence plaguing the United States.
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