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Two Mass Shootings Made This Week Feel Especially Bloody in America

The grim reality is that this week wasn't especially bad by American standards.
March 11, 2016, 11:00pm

Over the past seven days, America witnessed nine mass shootings that left 14 dead and 39 injured. These attacks bring the national toll of mass shootings in 2016 up to 66 deaths and 176 injuries. That means more Americans have died from mass shootings already this year than named characters have been killed on the HBO show Game of Thrones over the past five years. (The bloody epic, which is notoriously cavalier with its personae, has killed off 61 fictional people, not counting faceless hordes, according to a review of series deaths by TIME.)


Europe, meanwhile, suffered zero mass shootings over the past seven days. Relevant tallies on that continent for the year 2016 have held steady for two weeks now: six deaths and 27 injuries.

The past week seemed especially bloody given the intense media coverage of mass shootings in Kansas City, Kansas, and Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh. In the first, on Monday, authorities suspect that a man named Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino gunned his neighbor and three of the neighbor's friends to death in that man's house with a high-powered rifle before absconding deep into Missouri. In the second mass shooting, on Wednesday, two gunmen attacked a backyard cookout, killing six (including an eight-month-old fetus) and wounding three. The shooters appeared to use a pistol to herd victims into the line of fire of a high-powered rifle in a coordinated ambush.

The grim reality is that this week wasn't especially bloody by recent standards. The seven-day stretch between February 20 and 26, for instance, saw 12 mass shootings that left 20 dead and 41 wounded. And most of the mass shootings over the past seven days adhere to a traditional framework: Two were drive-bys, and another was a possible reverse drive-by in San Antonio, Texas, where someone waited for and then fired on a passing car (whose passengers may have just performed a drive-by of their own). There were also four escalated altercations at or near bars or parties, which account for a significant portion of America's mass shooting incidents in general.

Still, Serrano-Vitorino's apparent targeting of a neighbor with no clear motive for doing so, the high bodycount, and a subsequent minor spree in Missouri—in which he allegedly killed a fifth man and threatened at least one more—lend the Kansas City shooting an aura of the indiscriminate and abnormal. And in the Wilkinsburg shooting near Pittsburgh, the killers' apparent tactical thinking—which likely elevated the body count—contrasted with the wild shots that often characterize shootings at parties and other public events.

These incidents contributed to a larger oddity in this week's mass shootings: Most of the attacks (and deaths) occurred on weekdays, rather than the weekend, which is often when we see elevated violence. Four shootings occurred on Saturday or Sunday, while five occurred between Monday and Friday. The last time America saw more weekday than weekend shootings was back in January; the last time the nation saw more weekday than weekend deaths was that brutal stretch between February 20 and 26, which included the Hesston, Kansas, massacre during the week as well as the Kalamazoo, Michigan, shooting spree on the weekend.

In a sense, the fact that the Kansas City and Wilkinsburg shootings accounted for so many of this past week's casualties is a hopeful one. Random attacks, as experts have expressed in our previous mass shooting coverage, are unlikely to fit into any long-term trends. But having two such shootings so close on the heels of the similarly aberrant tragedies in Hesston and Kalamazoo is still viscerally unsettling, as is the fact that atypical events can so drastically boost the toll of any given week in American life. It would be nice to say that we're unlikely to experience any attacks like these again anytime soon, but that's not the way probability works. We could face yet another week of eerily strategic or terrifyingly mysterious shootings with high death tolls at any moment—a fact that the nation needs to reckon with in considering the future of gun policy.

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