By Deepti Govind
Typically, it is the summer months that are the bloodiest in terms of mass shootings across the U.S. But what’s worrying law enforcement officers (LEOs) particularly this year is the unrelenting surge in gun violence that began well before that habitual summer increase. Several LEOs and policing experts interviewed by CNN acknowledged alarming shooting and homicide numbers so far this year, following jumps in violent crime not seen in more than a decade.
The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) data shows that there have been 272 mass shooting incidents in the country so far in 2021. Just over the weekend, two people were killed and at least 30 others were injured in mass shootings according to authorities, the Associated Press reported. As states continue to lift Covid-19 restrictions, and with more people out in warmer weather, top brass across the country are worried and looking for solutions. Some cities are bulking up patrols in high-crime neighborhoods, putting rookie officers on the streets and increasing overtime spending, the CNN article added.
“The whole nature of proactive policing is being questioned at the same time you’re seeing increases in murders and shootings. It’s challenging to be a police officer right now but it’s also from a police chief’s standpoint. They’re not getting much sleep,” CNN quoted Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy group, as saying. Another former top cop told CNN that the acceleration in gun violence as the nation is coming out of the pandemic is of concern, as is the fact that “just about every major American city, let alone the suburbs, are experiencing significant crime increases.” The New York Times also reported on the crime spikes facing mayors across the country as the public emerges from a prolonged period of isolation.
In New York, where shootings increased 73% this May compared with the same period last year, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are forming a partnership to reduce gun violence and stop the flow of illegal guns into the city. Meanwhile, Florida’s largest county is moving forward with a nearly $8 million plan to reduce gun violence after a recent spike in shootings, seeking to focus on jobs for troubled teens and added funding for LEOs.
An 18-month-old and 4-year-old were among the youngest victims in the mass shootings this weekend, authorities said, according to CNN. The CNN article says that at least nine people were killed and 47 others were injured in mass shootings from Friday afternoon until Sunday. The total number of mass shootings is about 40% higher than at this point in 2020, and about 65% higher than at this point in 2019, according to data from the GVA, CNN added.
A mass shooting incident is defined by the GVA as one where four or more people are shot at, regardless of whether they are killed or injured, excluding the shooter. However, some consider a mass shooting as one where four or more have been killed. The GVA documents every reported incident of gun violence in the United States, collecting this information from more than 7,500 law enforcement, media, government, and commercial sources daily, in an effort to provide near-real time data about the results of gun violence.
This weekend’s bloody shootings happened to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, on June 12, Saturday. The shooting at the gay club in Orlando remains one of the deadliest in U.S. history, leaving 49 dead and wounding over 50. It’s also the deadliest attack on a group of LGBTQ people. Over the weekend, President Joe Biden said he would sign a bill naming the Pulse nightclub shooting site a national memorial.
One of the mass shootings this Saturday occurred at a crowded pedestrian-only street packed with bars and restaurants in Austin, wounding 14 people. Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a tweet that the mass-casualty shooting occurred even as police initiated multiple violence prevention programs intended to combat a recent increase in shootings in the Texas capital city, ABC News reported. “One thing is clear – greater access to firearms does not equal greater public safety,” he added.
On the other hand, on Friday, June 11, a federal judge struck down California’s 32-year-old ban on assault weapons, ruling that it violated Americans’ constitutional right to own guns for self protection, The Guardian reported. If the case is appealed to the Supreme Court, the court’s new conservative majority could use the legal battle to rule that banning military-style “assault weapons” is unconstitutional, undermining the Biden administration’s endorsement of a national ban, the article added.
Biden has made it clear that gun violence is a focus of his administration. On April 8, he announced an initial set of measures to take on what he called “an epidemic” of gun violence. This came mere hours after a shooting in Rock Hill, South Carolina claimed six lives in another senseless act of violence and a particularly bloody March, which saw several mass shootings.
The spate of deadly shootings this year began with the one in Boulder, Colorado, when a gunman opened fire at a King Soopers outlet and killed ten people in March. At the same time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had conducted more background checks for individuals wanting to buy firearms in the first quarter of 2021 than over corresponding periods in the five previous years.
After Colorado, came the mass shooting at Orange, California where four people, including a child, were gunned down in an office complex. That was followed by one at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, which left eight dead. Most recent, of course, was the San Jose massacre at a public transit rail yard. It was, quite literally, just three weeks ago that we did a piece on a mass shooting-ridden weekend.
“Public safety isn’t the sole province of the police. It’s a partnership with communities and with government agencies and corrections agencies, substance abuse and mental health agencies, social services and employment agencies all have critical real time roles to play. They need to step up and be held accountable as well,” Adam Gelb, president of Council on Criminal Justice, is quoted as saying in the CNN article. He added that being a police chief right now has to be the “toughest job in America.”