CHICAGO (AP) — A spate of shootings over the past several days has law enforcement on edge, with some warning that a turbulent brew of a pandemic, racial unrest, historic surges in gun sales and a rancorous election year could make it an especially deadly summer.
Although mass shootings are down sharply this year, other non-suicidal gun deaths are on pace to exceed last year, according to incidents tracked by the Gun Violence Archive.
That increase came before the start of summer, when there is traditionally a spike during the warmer months as people venture outside more, and before Independence Day, which historically has been one of the deadliest days each year.
Gun experts say the statistics reflect an American public increasingly stressed by the coronavirus that has roiled the economy and kept them cooped up at home, deep divisions over justice and policing, and the political divides of a presidential election year.
“There’s something going on at the moment, these underlying tensions,” said James Densley, professor of law enforcement and criminal justice at Metropolitan State University. “Everyone’s been cooped up for so long with the pandemic, and then we had this sort of explosion of anger and grief after George Floyd’s killing.”
In just the past few days, more than 100 people were wounded in shootings in Chicago, including a 3-year-old boy who was killed while riding in the back seat of a car with his father. Police said the boy’s father was the intended victim.
In North Carolina, three people were killed and six were wounded early Monday when unknown gunmen opened fire during an impromptu block party in Charlotte. An annual birthday party in Syracuse, New York, over the weekend was marred by gun violence that wounded nine people.
In Minneapolis, people fled a popular nightlife and retail area as a shooter killed one man and injured 11 others early Sunday.
And for the second time in less than 48 hours, there was a shooting in Seattle’s protest zone. A 17-year-old victim was shot late Sunday night in the area known as CHOP, for “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest,” a day after a 19-year-old man was fatally shot and a 33-year-old man critically injured in there.
Densley said the pace of gun violence may be a harbinger of a rough summer ahead.
“You’ve got people who are frustrated, angry, struggling in life and have been at home during this time processing all this and often processing this alone, maybe with the help with the internet,” he said. “Once the door starts to open, there could well be an uptick in violence.”
The scattered weekend shootings come as police face a backlash, accused of using excessive force against Blacks and other minorities, and calls to “defund” their departments by shifting money from law enforcement to social services and other community investment.
“If you invest in healing and restorative justice and bring the community to the table to heal and solve its own problems, you will see more and more that you don’t need police intervention,” said Kofi Ademola, an adult mentor to the anti-violence organization Good Kids Mad City in Chicago.
Millions of dollars now funding Chicago’s police department could be more effective fueling programs for mental health, housing, support for victims of gun violence and encouraging the creation or growth of neighborhood businesses, he said.
“Now is the time to hold them accountable and step up as a people to say we can hold our communities together without more policing,” said 20-year-old Jai Simpson, a member of Good Kids Mad City who grew up on the city’s South side.
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, who took over the department in April, is encouraged by police partnerships with community outreach groups, social services and other government agencies.
“Police can’t do it alone,” Brown said. “We need partners to be effective and protect this city. We’re just asking for a little bit of help now. You give this department a little bit of help and this city will be safer from violent offenders.”
This year has seen historic numbers of background checks being conducted for firearms purchases. Gun-rights advocates say the numbers reflect a public worried about personal safety and wanting to ensure they can defend themselves. Those worries are only being amplified amid calls to defund the police, they say.
Gun proponents seized on these fears when many Atlanta police officers declined to show up for their shifts after two white officers were criminally charged in the fatal shooting of a Black suspect.
Antonia Okafor Cover, director of outreach for Gun Owners of America, tweeted: “If you live in Atlanta THIS might be the time to buy that gun you were thinking of getting... The social experiment of having to rely on yourself for your own safety might be coming to fruition. #ATLcopwalkout”
Gun-control advocates say more firearms will only lead to more violence.
“There are a lot of people experiencing stress they’ve never experienced in their lives before. These are very hard times,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady gun-control group.
There is perhaps one silver lining: This year is on pace to have half as many mass shootings as the record-breaking 2019. A big reason is the “contagion” effect, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who, along with The Associated Press and USA Today, has been tracking mass killings back to 2006.
With people focused more on a deadly virus and other woes, mass shootings no longer get the attention that can end up inadvertently spurring such crimes. A similar effect happened in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, he said.
“We’ve been distracted. We are no longer obsessing about mass shootings like we were in the past couple of years,” Fox said. “The less we have obsessed about it and talked about it and being scared of it, the less we fuel the contagion.”