The subject of mass killings may be one of the most important discussions we really can’t seem to have these days. Why can’t we have it? Because too many people want to conflate literally every kind of shooting that doesn’t involve just one person shooting another with a mass shooting, which muddies the water in talking about mass killings in general.
I blame Gun Violence Archive for this, mostly because they take pretty much every gang shooting and make it into the same thing as Parkland or Las Vegas.
But we need to talk about them.
Why? Because according to a story in Time, it looks like we just set a record for the most number of mass killings in a six-month span.
Slain at the hands of strangers or gunned down by loved ones. Massacred in small towns, in big cities, inside their own homes or outside in broad daylight. This year’s unrelenting bloodshed across the U.S. has led to the grimmest of milestones: The deadliest six months of mass killings recorded since at least 2006.
From Jan. 1 to June 30, the nation endured 28 mass killings, all but one of which involved guns. The death toll rose just about every week, a constant cycle of violence and grief.
Six months. 181 days. 28 mass killings. 140 victims. One country.
“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.”
Of course, no one disputes Nashville was a legit mass shooting, but clearly, all of these others weren’t. There’s no way there were that many such killings in a six-month span. There’s just no way. They must be using some bogus definition that no one would really consider as such a shooting.
Except, they’re not.
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 The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University tracks this large-scale violence dating back to 2006.
Four people not including the killer.
Now, let’s remember that this isn’t just shootings. If someone stabs four people to death within a 24-hour span, it counts, but most of them are actually shootings.
But let’s also be real here, does it matter if the killer used a gun or something else? I can’t imagine anyone grieving over the grave of a loved one saying, “Well, at least they were beaten to death with a hammer instead of being shot.”
It just isn’t going to happen.
So yeah, I like this definition and the discussion of mass killings in general.
Now for the part that really sucks. This isn’t a newer trend. The previous record was 27 mass murders in the last half of 2022.
The 2023 milestone beat the previous record of 27 mass killings, which was only set in the second half of 2022. 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,” Fox said. “The fact that there’s 28 in half a year is a staggering statistic.”
Some experts hope this is a blip, an aberration that we won’t see again for a long, long time.
I sincerely hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.
A few things should be pointed out, though. One is that most of these happened after the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was passed, a law that was passed in response to a mass shooting and that clearly had absolutely no effect on anything whatsoever.
It should also be noted that while many have a knee-jerk reaction to mass killings, particularly shootings, of calling for an assault weapon ban, handguns are still the most common firearm used in such homicides.
And so far as I can tell, these aren’t disproportionately happening in constitutional carry states, which undermines that argument we’re likely to see.
All in all, this is concerning, and it’s time we start having a conversation about all of these killings, not just those using a firearm, which means going to the causes of such things.
Figure the odds of that happening.