The US has surpassed 100 mass shootings in 2023, a disturbing milestone that underscores the grave cost of inaction in Washington and state legislatures across the country.
America reached the grim number by the first week of March – record time, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, which, like CNN, defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people are shot, excluding the shooter.
Last year, the US hit 100 mass shootings on March 19, per the GVA, almost two weeks after this year’s date. The previous year, 2021, saw a late March date as well, and from 2018 to 2020, there weren’t 100 mass shootings until May.
“Americans are tired of fearing if they or their families will be the next victims of a mass shooting. Our children are tired of being told to ‘run, hide, and fight,’” said Kris Brown, president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, an organization seeking to mitigate gun violence in the US.
“These regular, uniquely American tragedies must be a call to action for our political leaders. We need decisive change to US gun laws and regulations. The cost of political inaction on preventing gun violence is increasingly, tragically clear,” Brown said.
But following passage of last year’s bipartisan gun safety law, there’s been little political momentum in the divided Congress for more gun safety legislation, even as the rate of mass shootings has picked up.
“Although fatal and nonfatal firearm injuries are growing, no real legislative response has followed acts of gun violence in support of individuals or the communities in which they live. And there is scant proof that prevention measures, such as active shooter drills, have reduced actual harm,” Mark S. Kaplan, a professor of social welfare at UCLA, told CNN.
“There are real solutions and tools – including bans on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines – available now that can make a difference, but only if our elected officials act to implement them,” he added.
Yet America’s relationship to gun ownership is unique, and its gun culture is a global outlier, complicating legislative efforts.
There are about 120 guns for every 100 Americans, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey. No other nation has more civilian guns than people. And about 44% of US adults live in a household with a gun, and about one-third own one personally, according to a November 2020 Gallup survey.
Almost a third of US adults believe there would be less crime if more people owned guns, according to an April 2021 Pew survey. However, multiple studies show that where people have easy access to firearms, gun-related deaths tend to be more frequent, including by suicide, homicide and unintentional injuries.
Meanwhile, mass shootings continue to drive demand for more guns.
It is, then, perhaps unsurprising that the US has more deaths from gun violence than any other developed country per capita. The rate in the US is eight times greater than in Canada, which has the seventh highest rate of gun ownership in the world; 22 times higher than in the European Union and 23 times greater than in Australia, according to Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation data from 2019.
“For gun violence survivors, this is an incredibly painful milestone to mark, and it arrives earlier and earlier each year,” said Liz Dunning, a spokesperson for Brady whose mother was shot and killed while answering the door of her home in 2003. “But survivors are increasingly taking action, and demanding our lawmakers stand up to the corporate gun industry and take comprehensive steps to reduce the recent influx of mass shootings.”
Gun violence activism has become a central plank of Democratic politics, with President Joe Biden repeatedly lamenting Congress’ inability to pass “common sense” measures after multiple mass shootings this year.
Democratic Rep. Maxwell Frost of Florida, the first member of Generation Z elected to Congress, centered his 2022 campaign on ending gun violence in the US, finding support among young voters who grew up as part of the “mass shooting generation,” as he calls it.
“We’ve seen these things and been wondering our whole lives as young people, in high school, middle school and elementary school, why? Why is this happening? Why have we not fixed this? And now we’re at a place where we can vote and we can run, and we’re going to do it,” Frost said when he won the Democratic nomination.
Last year’s bipartisan gun safety bill – which garnered the support of 14 Republicans in the House and 15 in the Senate – represented the most significant new federal legislation to address gun violence since the expired 10-year assault weapons ban of 1994. But it failed to ban any weapons and fell far short of what Biden and his party had advocated for – and what polls show Americans want to see.
Most of the public (66%) favored stricter gun laws, a July 2022 CNN poll found, with more than 4 in 10 saying that recently enacted gun legislation didn’t go far enough to change things.
But many Republicans, who now control the US House, have cited a mental health crisis in the US as the reason for America’s gun violence problem, showing little interest in the government trying to regulate access to guns.
Mental health challenges grew throughout the pandemic and violence increased, but an analysis from researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that guns made those incidences significantly more deadly. Between 2019 and 2021, all of the increase in suicides and most of the increase in homicides was from gun-related incidences. The gun suicide rate increased 10% while the non-gun suicide rate decreased.
That CNN poll, which was conducted a few weeks after the mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, found that 58% of Americans believed stricter gun control laws would reduce the number of gun-related deaths in the country. That was up from 49% in 2019 and similar to the 56% following the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
But until lawmakers on Capitol Hill reflect this majority, further gun safety legislation appears out of the question as the deadly cycle of violence continues.