The sun had barely risen Saturday when a man forced his way into a home in suburban Maryland. He fatally shot three people, authorities said, before officers killed him. Less than 24 hours later, police said a gunman killed six people and himself at a birthday party in a Colorado home. Those were the deadliest shootings on Mother’s Day weekend, but they were far from the only ones.
In two days, more than 260 shootings across the United States killed 94 people and injured 236, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. They happened in 37 states, from Washington to Florida and from Arizona to New Hampshire, shaking big cities and small towns. And they account for a 48-hour snapshot of gun violence in America.
But the weekend illustrates an alarming trend, said the archive's founder, Mark Bryant: The number of shootings, including those that kill or injure several people, appears to be on the rise.
"We saw a fairly steady trendline - it was going up, but going up relatively slow - from 2014 to 2019," Bryant said in an interview. "Then 2020 had a fairly substantial leap. I thought last year was an outlier, but this year looks as if it will be even worse than last year. And we have not even begun to get to the summer season, the part that is usually the worst."
In 2020, with much of the country shuttered inside because of coronavirus pandemic precautions, gun violence killed nearly 20,000 Americans, not including suicides. It was more than any other year in at least two decades. The final numbers are impossible to predict, but this year is on track to top that. By May 10, 2020, more than 5,500 people had died in shootings. As of Monday evening, the year's total stood at more than 6,700, according to the archive.
Few of these life-ending and life-altering events receive widespread attention. They happen inside homes or on city streets, and - like covid-19 - they disproportionately affect communities of color. One California activist calls it "the Forgotten Pandemic."
But the past two months have brought a steady string of high-profile mass shootings, returning gun violence to the national spotlight at a time when the country may be waking from a coronavirus-induced hibernation, with people once again crowding into bars, restaurants and public spaces. If the past eight weeks have signaled the resumption of some sort of "normal," they have also reignited the quintessential American fear of gun violence.
Researchers say the pandemic probably has fueled the shootings in several ways, including contributing to a surge in gun sales. Experts have also noted the apparent collapse of public confidence in law enforcement that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"As you have anger, as you have stress - and covid caused a lot of stress - that altogether has caused people to be on edge more," said Bryant, who theorized that the pandemic, partisan rancor and relaxed gun laws have combined to drive the violence. "Things are just all moving in that direction, and as long as we have more guns, more ammo, more anger and less restraint, that's going to happen."
The Washington Post defines a mass shooting as one in which four or more people were killed, not including domestic shootings that took place exclusively in private homes. These types of shootings tend to overshadow the instances of everyday violence that account for most gun deaths, which experts say could obscure some people's understanding of the problem and complicate the response. But their seeming randomness can stoke fear.
In 2020, The Post counted five mass shootings. This year, there have been eight - the latest in Colorado Springs on Sunday. At the Canterbury Mobile Home Park there, the alleged gunman, who police said was the boyfriend of one of the women killed, walked into a party where family members, friends and children were celebrating a birthday.
He opened fire, killing six of the attendees and himself, police said. Authorities did not release the names of the shooter or his victims, and they say they're investigating a possible motive. The shooting took place about one month after eight people were killed at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis when a former employee's rampage ended in suicide and two months after a gunman killed eight at Atlanta-area spas in March. And Colorado was still mourning the 10 gunned down at a Boulder grocery store on March 22.
The shootings have given fresh urgency to the national push to tighten gun laws, with Democrats and activists renewing their calls for measures including a ban on assault weapons and expanded background checks.
"This doesn't happen at birthday parties anywhere else in the world," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a proponent of gun control legislation, after the Colorado Springs shooting. "What a stain on our nation that we just shake our heads and keep let it happen."
That same weekend, one person was killed and seven injured in a shooting at a hotel in downtown Phoenix. Five more people were injured in a Charleston, S.C., shooting, and a quadruple shooting in Newark, N.J., left one woman so badly injured that officers applied a tourniquet to her leg to stop her from bleeding out.
A man the Denver Post identified as an attendee at the Colorado Springs party told the paper that he and his family had left before the shooting began. There had been two cakes, a boxing match on TV and joy in the air.
“It’s just crazy,” he said. “It’s not what we expected on Mother’s Day. I’m at a loss for words.”