Over the past seven days, America witnessed six mass shootings that left seven dead and 33 wounded. These attacks bring the US mass shooting body count to 331 dead and 1,213 injured so far in 2016.
Meanwhile, Europe suffered zero mass shootings over the same period of time, leaving the continent's body toll at 44 dead and 143 injured so far this year.
These recent US attacks broke the relative calm that had defined the start of October and returned us to a number of incidents and victims akin to what the nation suffered throughout most of September. And two of these tragedies drew more sustained national media attention than any American mass shooting since Nathan Desai's late September rampage in Houston.
Most of this week's shootings followed routine patterns of violence, so common now that they rarely attract major media attention and are easy to write off as an inevitable part of life. Last Friday night, a drive-by on a house in Chicago at about 8:15 PM left one person dead and six injured. The next morning, at about 1 AM, a dispute at a private party in Rockford, Illinois, escalated into a shooting that left one dead and five injured. At about 7:40 PM on Saturday night, a shooting broke out at an informal block party near a housing development in Mobile, Alabama, injuring five. And at about 8:50 PM on Monday, another shooting in Chicago, this time in the street, left one dead and four more injured.
The bloodiest of the week's shootings occurred on Saturday morning—about two and a half hours after the party shooting in Rockford, Illinois—at an unlicensed Jamaican eatery in the basement of a Los Angeles home. Ostensibly a gun battle between two groups within the establishment, with multiple shooters firing into a crowded space with limited exits, ultimately left four dead and nine injured, not counting those who suffered gunshot wounds, but have since been arrested as probable shooters. The grueling victim count of this event led to substantial media attention.
Then at about 3:20 PM on Tuesday, four boys approached a 15-year-old girl in her San Francisco high school's parking lot just after it let out for the day. One of them shot her and three other 15-year-old boys—bystanders in a seemingly targeted attack. All four shooting victims survived; in raw numerical terms, this attack was one of the least bloody this week. Yet because it involved youths and a school, a subset of victims and a location that carry special weight in America's collective consciousness, this attack and the ongoing manhunt for the boys believed to be behind it garnered enduring media attention and likely stoked the nation's deep fear of school shootings.
The Los Angeles and San Francisco shootings illustrate two trends that we've seen play out multiple times this year. In LA, the attack was a stark reminder of how chaotic shootings in crowded venues can be, and how one altercation in the wrong place can lead to a bloodbath that shatters a weeks-long trend of relative calm. And Tuesday's San Francisco shooting, through the attention it generated, was a reminder of how much we privilege the context of some shootings above others. These forces—unpredictable chaos and our selective interpretations of violence—are part of what allows us to ignore the nation's ongoing epidemic of mass shootings in weeks that don't see any headline-grabbing incidents like these, fostering the broad inaction that permits large-scale gun violence to grind on unabated.
In order to prevent more attacks like these, and to staunch the constant churn of mass shootings plaguing the nation, we need to learn from this, recognizing that attacks like that in Los Angeles can hit at any moment and that many of the attacks we ignore are in most respects as horrific and noteworthy as this week's San Francisco school attack. If we take those facts to heart, they may motivate us, even in calm weeks, to push for change. If we don't, we'll keep suffering on through a constant wash of routine mass shootings, punctuated randomly by even greater tragedies.
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