In a country with more guns than people, schoolchildren learn to crouch to avoid bullets, heroes pounce on attackers, and elected officials offer their “thoughts and prayers.” The figures are implacable: in the United States, mass shootings have been steadily increasing for more than 20 years, in a more recent context of a general increase in homicides. The killings happen in schools, churches, supermarkets or at work. And nothing seems to be able to stop them.
The killings in numbers: nearly two mass shootings a day
Three shootings and 21 deaths in four days. The attacks at a Los Angeles Lunar New Year dance hall, at a farm south of San Francisco, and at a gas station in Washington state made headlines. But their frequency is not exceptional: for three consecutive years, since 2020, the United States has exceeded 600 mass shootings per year, according to statistics compiled by the website Gun Violence Archive, which defines them as firearm attacks resulting in at least 4 dead or wounded, not including the shooter.
The FBI, on the other hand, counts rarer events that exclude the bulk of gang violence and drug trafficking: incidents with an “active” shooter, which require a real-time response from law enforcement to stop the threatens. An American evil in constant progression since the 1980s, and which is accelerating. The number of incidents has multiplied by five since the beginning of the 2000s: from a dozen per year on average (2000-2008) to 60 in 2021. These shooters are almost exclusively men, most often young (33 years old on average). And if nearly seven in ten are white, that reflects the overall demographics of the US population.
For a long time, this surge of mass shooting fever was a paradox: From the highs of the 1990s, the murder rate has fallen steadily for 25 years. But it has increased by more than 50% since 2014, with a jump in 2020. At 6.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, the United States has returned to 1997 levels, with a rate five times higher than in France. In total, there were nearly 23,000 murders in the United States in 2021, 80% by firearm.
The Roots of Evil: “Dead of Despair”
Prevalence of weapons, poorly supported mental health, widening economic inequalities, Covid-19 pandemic… Many factors are listed by experts to explain an increase in shootings that are still poorly understood. But for Jillian Peterson and James Densley, researchers and co-founders of the Violence Project, “these killings are not random acts of violence but rather symptoms of a deeper societal problem: the continued rise in ‘deaths of despair'”. . A term that notably includes the suicides and overdoses of the opiate crisis, which particularly affects white men. And contributed, with the deaths of Covid-19, to lower the life expectancy of Americans by 2.7 years between 2019 and 2021.
Jillian Peterson, psychologist and professor of criminology, and James Densley, who teaches criminal law, examine 50 years of data on shootings, and deliver their results in the New York Times :
Almost all killers are men, often socially isolated from their families or communities, who feel marginalized. A mass shooting is a way to force others to witness their pain by trying to end their lives in a way that they control.”
Whether the assailants are shot by the police, turn their guns on themselves or spend the end of their days in prison, it is, according to them, “a form of suicide”.
While campaigning for comprehensive firearms reform, these experts say elected officials “must find ways to reduce social isolation and improve mental health care.” . And to conclude: “Instead, we let mass shootings normalize in American culture. »