Mass shootings obscure the daily toll of America’s guns

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Cameron Taylor was watching an illegal street race that had drawn hundreds to an intersection in Portland, Ore., but decided to leave as the crowd grew increasingly unruly. Moments later, gunfire erupted and Taylor was struck by a stray bullet as he and a friend headed to their car.

Police, inundated with 911 calls about other shootings, were unable to control multiple street occupations in the city that night and struggled to find the victims of three shootings that occurred during the chaos.

“His friend who was with him put him in the car and got him out to take him to the hospital, but he didn’t make it and that friend called his parents” to say Taylor was dead, said family friend Erin Russell in The Associated Press.

Taylor, 20, died Sunday on the same day that four high-profile, public clashes in Bend, Oregon, Phoenix, Detroit and Houston grabbed national headlines. His killing went largely unnoticed amid the daily toll of gun violence that has come to define Portland and a number of other US cities since the pandemic.

Homicide rates appear to be falling in some major US cities, such as New York and Chicago, but in others murders are rising, particularly by guns. In Portland, the homicide rate is up 207% since 2019, and there have been more than 800 shootings so far this year. In Phoenix, Police Chief Jerry Williams said this week’s gun violence was the worst he had seen in his 33 years on the job.

“How many more officers need to be shot? How many more community members must be killed before our community members take their place? This is not just a Phoenix police issue, this is a community issue,” he said after a weekend that saw 17 shootings and 11 homicides across the city.

Now, police are on the brink of the Labor Day weekend, with its traditional end-of-summer holiday, and some are adding extra patrols as they brace for more potential violence.

In Portland, police busy with three murders and nine non-fatal shootings in 48 hours were unable to control three illegal street races last weekend that drew hundreds and closed major intersections for hours. In Houston, the day after a gunman shot five neighbors, killing three, another man shot two sisters before killing himself.

Over the past two weeks, authorities in Phoenix have seized 711 guns and made 525 gun-related arrests as part of a targeted crackdown. Nearly 90 percent of homicides there this year have been with a gun, police said. In Detroit, where a man is accused of randomly shooting three people on city streets last weekend, authorities are also cracking down on gun violence in high-crime neighborhoods during Labor Day.

“Let’s stop talking about our inability to respond to crime in the community. Let’s stop advertising to criminals that they’re going to get away,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said using a verbatim expression at a City Council meeting this week after Police Chief Chuck Lovell once again called for more officers.

“I think we need to stop using the messaging at every turn that the reason we can’t help our citizens with basic criminal justice issues is because we don’t have the staff,” Wheeler said. “We need to figure out better ways to deal with this crisis.”

Last weekend’s spats — which included a heavily armed gunman who stormed a downtown Oregon supermarket, random shootings on the streets of Detroit and a Phoenix man who opened fire while wearing body armor — were shocking and terrifying, but they don’t represent the broader gun toll Violence is taking over American society, experts said.

Victims killed in mass shootings make up about 1 percent of all those killed in gun homicides nationally, despite the headlines that make many Americans afraid, said James Fox, a professor at Northeastern University who has created a database of mass killings spanning 2006. The Associated Press and USA Today.

All four shootings last weekend didn’t even meet the database’s definition of a mass killing — four or more people, excluding the shooter, killed in a 24-hour period — but they still sowed fear because of the random nature of the violence. added.

“They don’t tend to make news. They don’t tend to scare people because people say, ‘Well, that’s not my family,'” Fox said. “We have up to 20,000 gun homicides a year, and most of them are one victim. Sometimes two, sometimes three, (but) rarely four or more.”

The pandemic and the social upheaval it caused also played a role. Eight million Americans became first-time gun owners between 2019 and 2021, said Jeffrey Batz, director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Center for Research and Evaluation at the City University of New York.

“We already had 400 million guns in circulation. So when you raise it and include a lot of first-timers in the population, you have accidents, aggressive behavior, you have people reacting to minor insults and conflicts with their guns because they’re in their pockets now,” he said.

Meanwhile, Taylor’s friends and family are mourning his death in Portland.

The car enthusiast and beloved big brother who loved barbecues and spending time with his family was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Russell said.

“He has a lot of friends and a lot of family who love him very much and this is a devastating loss.”

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Associated Press reporter Walt Berry in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus

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