The United States has registered 28 mass killings during the first six months of this year, according to a database maintained jointly by the Associated Press, USA Today and the Northeastern University. This number sets a new grim milestone in the country’s ongoing cycle of gun violence, exceeding the previous record of 27, set in the second half of 2022.
Between January 1 and June 30, the U.S. witnessed the death of 140 people in mass killings, all but one of which involved guns. The death toll rose just about every week.
A mass killing is defined as an occurrence when four or more people are slain, not including the assailant, within a 24-hour period. A database maintained by AP and USA Today, in partnership with Northeastern University, tracks this large-scale violence dating back to 2006. The database does not include non-fatal shootings.
James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University, never imagined records like this when he began overseeing the database about five years ago.
“We used to say there were two to three dozen a year,” Mr. Fox said. “The fact that there’s 28 in half a year is a staggering statistic.” But the chaos of the first six months of 2023 doesn’t automatically doom the last six months. The remainder of the year could be calmer, despite more violence over the July 4 holiday weekend.
“Hopefully it was just a blip,” said Dr. Amy Barnhorst, a psychiatrist who is the associate director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. “There could be fewer killings later in 2023, or this could be part of a trend. But we won’t know for sometime,” she added.
Experts like Dr. Barnhorst and Mr. Fox attribute the rising bloodshed to a growing population with an increased number of and access to guns in the U.S. For all the headlines, however, mass killings are statistically rare and represent only a fraction of the country’s overall gun violence.
What politicians are saying
“What a ghastly milestone,” said Brent Leatherwood, whose three children were in class at a private Christian school in Nashville on March 27 when a former student killed three children and three adults. “You never think your family would be a part of a statistic like that.” Mr. Leatherwood, a prominent Republican in a state that hasn’t strengthened gun laws, believes something must be done to get guns out of the hands of people who might become violent.
“You may as well say Martians have landed, right? It’s hard to wrap your mind around it,” he said.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, had urged the General Assembly in the wake of the Nashville school shooting to pass legislation keeping firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others, so-called “red flag laws,” though Mr, Lee says the term is politically toxic.
Getting such a measure passed in Tennessee is an uphill climb. The Republican-led Legislature adjourned earlier this year without taking on gun control, prompting Mr. Lee to schedule a special session for August.
Mr. Leatherwood, a former executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party and now the head of the influential Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, wrote a letter to lawmakers asking them to pass the governor’s proposal.
Mr. Leatherwood said he doesn’t want any other family to go through what his children experienced at the time of the shooting when they were in kindergarten, second grade and fourth grade. One of his kids, preparing for a recent sleepaway camp, asked whether they would be safe there.
“Our child was asking, Do you think that there will be a gunman that comes to this camp? Do I need to be worried about that?’” Mr. Leatherwood said.
The Nashville shooter, whose writings Mr. Leatherwood and other parents are asking a court to keep private, used three guns in the attack, including an AR-15-style rifle. It was one of at least four mass killings in the first half of 2023 involving such a weapon, according to the database.
Nearly all of the mass killings in the first half of this year, 27 of 28, involved guns. The other was a fire that killed four people in a home in Monroe, Louisiana. A 37-year-old man was arrested on arson and murder charges in connection with the March 31 deaths.
The NRA’s view
Despite the rising toll and evidence, the National Rifle Association maintains fierce opposition to regulating firearms, including AR-15-style rifles and similar weapons.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ constant efforts to gut the Second Amendment will not usher in safety for Americans; instead, it will only embolden criminals,” NRA spokesman Billy McLaughlin said in a statement. “That is why the NRA continues our fight for self-defence laws. Rest assured, we will never bow, we will never retreat, and we will never apologise for championing the self-defence rights of law-abiding Americans.”
Concern for the children’s future
Tito Anchondo’s brother, Andre Anchondo, was among 23 people killed in a 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The gunman was sentenced last week to 90 consecutive life sentences but could face more punishment, including the death penalty. The prosecution of the racist attack on Hispanic shoppers in the border city was one of the U.S. government’s largest hate crime cases.
Andre Anchondo and his wife, Jordan, died shielding their 2-month-old son from bullets. Paul, who escaped with broken bones, is now 4 years old.
Tito said it felt like the country had forgotten about the El Paso victims in the years since and that not nearly enough had been done to stem the bloodshed. He worries about Paul’s future.
“I hope that things can drastically change because this country is going down a very, very slippery slope; a downward spiral,” he said. “It’s just a little unnerving to know that he’s eventually going to go to school with kids that also may bring a gun to school.”