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America faces 39 mass shootings in three weeks

Countless tragedies mark the start of 2023 in the USA, but conversations around gun violence and firearm laws remain stunted. 

When I set out to write this article last week, my intention was to focus on the mass shooting at Monterey Park, California, where 11 people were killed over Lunar New Year weekend.

The suspect was a man of Asian descent and police are still investigating his motives.

But just two days later, on January 23rd, another mass shooting took place in Half Moon Bay, killing 7 people.

Both shootings have been viewed as anti-Asian violence.

There has been a rise in violence against Asian Americans since the COVID-19 pandemic, where the Trump administration fuelled an anti-Chinese rhetoric, drawing unfounded associations between Chinese people and the Coronavirus.

From 2019 to 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes rose nearly 150% in the US, with most of these incidents happening in workplace settings.

The shooting in Monterey Park triggered fearful and angered responses from Asian American advocacy groups, who described it as another blow ‘after years of high-profile anti-Asian violence around the country’.

Police in San Francisco were also encouraged to step up patrols at other Lunar New Year celebrations following the attack.

Two mass shootings in California are just the tip of the iceberg. The US has faced a striking 39 mass shootings since the start of 2023. Nearly 70 people have died as a result.

The Gun Violence Archive classifies a mass shooting as any armed attack in which at least 4 people are killed or injured.

Outside of mass shootings specifically, more than 1200 people have been shot dead in the US so far in 2023. This includes 120 children.

While reports of the Monterey Park shooting were still breaking, reporters had to cut to another mass killing at a school for at-risk young people in Des Moines, Iowa.

And since the Half Moon Bay shooting on the 23rd January, another, just hours later, saw two dead and three injured in Chicago.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom responded to the slew of shootings on Twitter this week; ‘At the hospital meeting with victims of a mass shooting when I get pulled away to be briefed about another mass shooting. Tragedy upon tragedy.’

Despite the perpetual fear gripping America, a fear that such violence could break out any moment, in any context, debates around firearms are as complex as ever.

Just as calls for more gun control are growing, so are the sales of firearms – as individuals feel a growing need for self-protection.

As the New York Times reported this week, ‘public shooting sprees rivet the nation, but can also have the effect of normalising violence’.

Adam Lankford, a criminologist at the University of Alabama, has described the prevalence of shootings in the US as a by-product of accessible weapons, and copycat effects.

‘You can think of it as a snowball effect’ he told the New York Times. ‘The more incidents there are, the more prominent this option will be in angry people’s minds’.

On Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the shootings to a crowd in Tallahassee. ‘All of us in this room and in our country understand this violence must stop’.

But how this happens continues to divide both lawmakers and the public. Gun culture remains deeply political and divisive, wrapped up in personal beliefs of freedom, American identity, and self-defence.

Regardless of these complexities, however, the data is simple. Firearm injuries are now the leading cause of death among under-24-year-olds in the US.

And between 2015 and 2020, there were at least 2,070 unintentional shootings by children under 18, resulting in 765 deaths and 1,366 injuries.

America is also the only nation with more guns than civilians, with 393 million privately owned firearms. This doesn’t account for unregistered weapons, and those tied up in illegal trade and global conflict.

‘There is no place left in America that is safe from gun violence’ David Min, California State senator, said following the Monterey Park shooting. ‘This has to stop. Enough is enough.’

But these responses follow all of America’s mass shootings, and little seems to change. As for smaller, unreported killings, locals are left to pick up the pieces without national support.

‘Last year I lost 15 lives in my community’ said Tom McNamara, Mayor of Rockford. ‘There was no national story about it. It’s just sad that we live in a country where violence is normalised’.


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