‘Tragedy upon tragedy’: January brings dozens of mass shootings so far
Flowers left at a gate near the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where 11 people were killed in a mass shooting, in Monterey Park, Calif., on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.
By J. DAVID GOODMAN, AMY HARMON and ADEEL HASSAN
There was the mass shooting near a youth center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the one at a Subway restaurant in Durham, North Carolina. Another took place behind a beer hall in Oklahoma City, and another at a strip club outside Columbus, Ohio. Two mass shootings ended parties in different Florida cities.
And that was just on New Year’s Day.
By the start of the fourth week in January, the tally had grown to include at least 39 separate shootings in which four or more people were injured or killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive, outlining a striking explosion of violence across a range of sites in nearly every corner of the nation that killed at least 69 people.
The deadliest shooting so far took place over the weekend in of Monterey Park, California, a city with a thriving Asian American community where a gunman killed 11 people and wounded nine others inside a popular ballroom dance hall. Authorities said the gunman, who may have targeted his victims and who later killed himself, was a 72-year-old man.
Then, on Monday, came another deadly mass shooting in California. A gunman, whom authorities said was a 67-year-old man, killed seven people and seriously wounded at least one other person in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco.
“At the hospital meeting with victims of a mass shooting when I get pulled away to be briefed about another shooting,” Gov. Gavin Newsom of California tweeted on Monday. “Tragedy upon tragedy.”
The frequency of mass shootings and the variety of places in which they now take place — at offices and schools, nail salons and houses of worship, grocery stores and restaurants — contributes to the sense, prevalent across America, that such violence could break out at any moment, anywhere. It fuels calls for gun control just as certainly as it does the purchase of more and more guns. Public shooting sprees rivet the nation, but can also have the effect of normalizing violence.
Criminologists say the prevalence of mass shootings is brought about in part by the easy access to so many weapons — a unique feature of the United States — as well as by a copycat effect.
“Would someone like this have committed a mass shooting at a dance hall in the past?” Adam Lankford, a criminologist at the University of Alabama, said, referring to the older man believed to have been the gunman in Monterey Park. “Maybe not. You can kind of think of it as a snowball effect. The more incidents there are, the more prominent this option will be in angry people’s minds.”
And at the same time, the recurrence of such gun violence risks having the effect of desensitizing the nation to tragedy, so much so that warnings not to become accustomed to high-profile mass shootings are a familiar part of the response.
“We cannot become numb to these horrific acts of violence,” the district attorney of San Francisco, Brooke Jenkins, said after the Monterey Park shooting, which took place amid Lunar New Year celebrations over the weekend. “The year of the Rabbit stands for hope.”
The number of mass shootings has been rising, though not steadily, since 2014, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks public reports of shootings. There were 690 shootings with four or more victims in 2021, more than double the 2014 total. The number fell slightly last year, to 647, but remained significantly higher than in previous years.
And the number of such shootings appears to be rising in the first few weeks of this year, as compared with similar periods in recent years. There has been, on average, fewer than one mass shooting per day from Jan. 1 to Jan. 23 in each of the past five years, according to the Gun Violence Archive data, but the past two years have been trending up, to 28 last year from 26 in 2021, and 16 in 2018.
“There is no place left in America that is safe from gun violence,” David Min, a California state senator, said in response to the Monterey Park shooting. “This has to stop. Enough is enough.”
A 2015 study linked the nation’s high rate of mass shootings to its high rate of gun ownership. Americans make up about 5% of the global population and own 42% of the world’s guns, the study said.
It is difficult to calculate the precise number of guns sold each year in the United States, because of varying state laws and purchase scenarios. But FBI data on the number of firearm background checks can serve as a measure. By that count, the totals have swelled to 40 million background checks in 2021 from 10 million in 2005.
But subsequent work suggests that the governing factor may be easy access to guns, not ownership of them, said Lankford, the University of Alabama criminologist, who wrote the 2015 study.
Nearly 40% of American men tell researchers that they own a gun, so gun ownership alone is not a useful predictor of who is likely to commit a mass shooting, Lankford said. In a study of the 14 deadliest mass shootings since the high school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, in 1999, he and a co-author showed that half of the perpetrators had not acquired their first firearm until the final year before their attack.
In many of the less widely reported mass shootings that take place in the United States, information about the gunman and the weapon used is not readily known. After 12 people were shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over the weekend, three with what were described as life-threatening injuries, police implored people with information to come forward with information about the gunman.
In Rockford, Illinois, northwest of Chicago, three people died and two others were injured in a shooting this month, and a suspect has yet to be identified publicly.
“You wish there was the same attention that was put on these everyday shootings,” the mayor of Rockford, Tom McNamara, said in an interview.
“I don’t want to sound callous about Monterey Park, but at least those people are going to be remembered,” he added. “Last year I lost 15 lives in my community. There was no national story about it. It’s just sad that we live in a country where violence is normalized.”