It's Only July and 200 People Have Died in US Mass Shootings
The Orlando nightmare last month helped push the mass shooting body count over 200 so far in 2016.
Over the past seven days, America witnessed 15 mass shootings that left 15 dead and 52 wounded. These attacks bring the US mass shooting body count so far in 2016 to 202 dead and 639 injured. That means mass shootings have killed more people in the first half of this year than the March 2004 train bombing in Madrid, Spain that left 191 people dead.
Meanwhile, Europe suffered zero mass shootings over the same period of time, holding the continent's 2016 body count in such attacks steady at 23 dead and 72 wounded.
This tally represents the most mass shootings in a week this year. Of course, the past seven days were nowhere near as bloody as the week of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which saw a total of 59 dead and 86 wounded in 11 attacks. But after that horrific outlier—the worst mass shooting in US history—this week was the second-bloodiest and third-deadliest of the year. You might not guess that given how little national media attention most of this week's attacks received, but in a sense that makes it a fitting microcosm on which to close out the first half of the year: a collection of small or seemingly typical attacks that American culture takes as a given but which add up to a grinding, massive tragedy.
Within the first six months of 2016 alone, the United States has seen 159 mass shootings—in comparison to 18 across the entire European continent. Although the details of many of these attacks remain murky, over 100 of them involved what many of us might write off as banal circumstances: drive-bys, robberies, and disputes on the streets or at parties. The majority of this year's attacks also involved just four victims injured or killed, which seems tiny in comparison to something like Orlando. Almost half of the year's attacks involved no fatalities. Chicago, which has already suffered 17 mass shootings this year—the most of any US city—is the poster child of small-scale mass shootings: nine such attacks in Chicago left four injured and zero dead, and in total all of the mass shootings in the city have killed six and injured 69. The city is also a prime example of how small tragedies—none of which ought to be acceptable or brushed off in the first place—can build into a bona fide crisis.
By comparison, only five of this year's attacks read as the archetypal mass shooting in the American imagination. In February, James Dalton's alleged night of random drive-bys around Kalamazoo, Michigan, involved one mass shooting, which killed four women and injured a 14-year-old girl in a Cracker Barrel parking lot. Cedric Ford's assault on his former workplace, Excel Industries in Hesston, Kansas, the same month left three people dead and 12 injured. Dionisio Garza III's execution of a man at an auto shop in Houston, Texas, followed by an indiscriminate spray of high-powered rifle fire, injured six other people in late May. Last month, Robert Sykes's alleged attempt to mow down everyone in his path at a Phoenix, Arizona, Motel 6 left two dead and three injured. Finally, Omar Mateen's unprecedented act of anti-gay terrorism at Orlando, Florida's Pulse Nightclub last month left 49 dead and 53 injured.
Mateen's attack was a terrible and year-defining incident that has driven the issue of mass gun violence to the fore. But while that tragedy has managed to rekindle a national discussion on gun control, it has also pulled that conversation hard towards debates on how to stop a repeat of specific circumstances—or at best the circumstances of other crazed, terrorist shootings involving AR-15-style rifles. In truth, while nowhere near as brutal as Orlando, a huge chunk of this year's worst mass shootings have been tied to two drastically under-covered phenomena.
Leaving Pulse aside, some two-dozen of the past six months' mass shootings have come in the middle of the night at or near bars, clubs, late-night restaurants, or strip joints. Many of these shootings involved petty disputes similar to those behind many street shootings. But they also speak to a profound failure of existing norms and laws on security at late night venues, which allows guns and violence into often-packed killing zones.
Another dozen of the year's mass shootings thus far have clearly stemmed from family disputes—especially domestic violence. These mass shootings tend to be especially brutal, accounting for five of the ten deadliest attacks this year, one of which occurred this Thursday when a husband chased his wife down the street in Las Vegas, Nevada, shot her in the head, killing her, and then went home, where three of his children were later found dead (and he killed himself). The circumstances of these attacks, many of which involve shooters with a history of troubling behavior, speak to the failure of laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of those prone to violence, especially at times of heightened tension like after a restraining order or divorce filing.
It's understandable that we focus our attention on massive catastrophes like Orlando. They are unique, breaking national patterns of perversely routine bloodshed. And with assault weapons restrictions or regulations on gun purchases by those on terrorist watch lists, some are hopeful we can at least prevent the most earth-shaking and visible tragedies—the ones that tend to get us talking about gun violence.
But if the first six months of this year have taught us anything, it's how little of a dent such measures would make in America's overall mass-shooting epidemic. Changes like reforming nightlife security norms, getting serious about keeping guns out of the hands of individuals clearly prone to violence—and especially domestic violence—could make a more systemic difference. Controlling the flow of guns onto America's streets, which goes far beyond expanding background checks, is of paramount importance as well, of course.
In order for these and other vital solutions to reach fruition, though, the public needs to keep the bigger picture of mass American gun violence in mind. And the country needs a level of dialogue—and spine—that goes far beyond the pale shimmering awareness that has emerged over the past few weeks.
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