ATHENS, Ala. – Amid the flood of mass shootings that have become commonplace in America, the reality of the nation’s staggering murder rate can often be seen most clearly in the deaths that never make national news.
Take this weekend to Chicago. On Monday, a rooftop gunman opened fire on crowds gathered for an Independence Day parade in a Chicago suburb, killing at least seven people and injuring about 30.
Less mentioned, Chicago police say 68 people were shot in the city between 6 p.m. Friday and just before midnight Monday. Eight of them died.
Most gun violence in America is related to seemingly ordinary conflicts that spiral out of control and someone is looking for a gun. Black people are disproportionately affected by gun violence in America and are far more likely to be victims of gun crime or homicide.
Often the victim and the shooter know each other. They are colleagues and acquaintances, siblings and neighbors. They are killed in agricultural villages, small towns and overcrowded cities.
They are people like David Guess, a 51-year-old small-town father of four who had struggled with addiction and who police say was shot by an acquaintance and dumped in an Alabama forest near from a place called Chicken Foot Mountain.
Her murder received little attention outside of rural northern Alabama where Guess grew up and later worked as a mechanic and truck driver. But his death shattered many lives.
“It was absolutely devastating” for the Guess family, said his brother, Daniel Guess. Their 72-year-old father, Larry, now rarely leaves his home and often does not get out of bed.
Daniel didn’t just lose his brother in the shooting.
” I lost my father. too,” he said. “It kills my father.”
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Compared to much of the developed world, America is a murderous country. The United Nations estimates that the homicide rate in the United States is three times that of Canada, five times that of France, 26 times that of Japan. According to some studies, there are more guns in America today than there are people.
But while Americans often see the country’s streets as ever more dangerous scenes of public massacres, the reality is more complicated.
While mass murder absorbs the vast majority of attention, more than half of the approximately 45,000 annual gun deaths in the United States are due to suicide. Mass shootings — defined as the death of four or more people, not including the shooter — have killed 85 to 175 people each year for the past decade.
Additionally, while gun murders in the United States skyrocketed in 2020, recent statistics indicate that they are declining this year in many cities.
To complicate matters further: data on gun murders is woefully incomplete, with just over 60% of law enforcement agencies nationwide reporting crime statistics to the FBI’s national database.
“Our lack of shooting data is devastating for understanding gun violence trends,” said Jeff Asher, data analyst and co-founder of AH Datalytics, which is building its own crime database to try to circumvent some of these shortcomings. “This is a government problem, but citizens are forced to develop workarounds” to create a clearer picture of what is happening.
While the FBI collects crime data nationwide, participation is voluntary at the federal level, and thousands of law enforcement agencies submit no or partial information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps a careful tally of homicides, but its data on each death is limited.
So when politicians debate whether AR-15-style rifles lead to more kills, or whether extended magazines that carry more bullets lead to more deaths, no one is quite sure. CDC statistics for 2020, for example, show that authorities know what type of weapon was used in only 24% of gun deaths. Both parties to the gun control debate, meanwhile, can frame the facts that suit their purposes.
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People all over America are scared.
Nearly a third said they couldn’t go anywhere without fear of being the victim of a mass shooting, according to a 2019 survey by the American Psychological Association. Almost a quarter said they had changed their lifestyle to avoid mass shootings, sometimes avoiding public events, shopping malls and cinemas.
But are they afraid of bad things?
“The media coverage gave people the impression that things are different today, that we’ve never really experienced these (mass killings) before. But we have. It’s more common now, but it’s still extremely, extremely rare,” given the size of the US population, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who has been tracking the killings since 2006 with The Associated Press. and USA Today.
Hyperventilated media coverage has contributed to the fear, he says, with overwhelming live coverage of mass shootings and news reports confusing mass shootings – where multiple people are injured – with massacres. Only 5% of mass shootings end in four or more deaths, he said, “and only a quarter of them take place in schools, churches and public places like this.”
Fox does not minimize the horror of the massacres or the pain they inflict on victims, families and communities. But he fears America’s reactions – active-fire drills, for example, and bunker-style schools – are producing outsized fears and ill-spent resources.
They also give people the wrong impression of how Americans die. Most homicides, he says, are one person killing another.
And one thing is certain: you have never heard of most of these victims.
It’s people like Oneil Anderson, owner of the Love Cuts hair salon in Miami Gardens, Florida, who police say was killed outside his store in March, apparently by a former client. There’s Leslie Bailor, whose husband allegedly shot her multiple times in their central Pennsylvania home in April and then called the police. She was dead when they arrived. There’s 18-year-old Jailyn Logan-Bledso, who was shot and killed two weeks ago at a gas station just outside Chicago by two men who stole her car and disappeared.
On June 26, Atlanta police said Brittany Macon, a 26-year-old employee of a Subway sandwich shop, was shot and killed when a customer became angry and opened fire. He also injured another employee. The customer, according to police, was angry that he had too much mayonnaise on his sandwich.
The homicides are often associated with big cities like Chicago, where police say the majority of killings have to do with gang rivalries, which in recent years have often festered on social media before spilling onto the streets. But while Chicago’s homicide rate is high, with nearly 800 murders in the city of 2.7 million last year, its per capita rate is lower than many small towns.
Gun deaths are far from a big city phenomenon. Nearly 30% of all gun deaths in 2020 occurred in small towns and rural areas across the country, according to the CDC. Half were in large cities and their suburbs, with about 20% in mid-sized cities and counties.
Lawrence County, Alabama, where Guess was killed, had two more murders in the same week in March. That’s more than the death toll in an average year in the county of 33,000, Sheriff Max Sanders told reporters in March.
Sanders could not explain the increase in homicides. In one, a husband allegedly shot his wife during an argument and then committed suicide. In the other, a son is accused of beating his mother to death with an ashtray and other items found in the house because she got rid of her dog and refused to take her to see her little one. friend.
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David Guess’ death began with an argument over a car part.
Guess had struggled with addiction but had been clean for more than a month before his death, his brother Daniel said. He had adopted three of his four children and once considered becoming a preacher. For the past few weeks, he’s been living in an RV parked next to his father’s trailer.
He would, his brother said, “give you the shirt he had on his back”.
On March 5, court documents say David Guess drove down a dusty county road near the town of Hillsboro to the home of a man he knew. Late that night another man, Charles Allan Keel, arrived. He insisted that Guess owed him $1,500 for a catalytic converter, which became valuable as scrap due to the expensive metals inside.
Keel, 43, along with his 17-year-old son and other men beat Guess, and someone hit him in the head with a pipe, police say. As Guess tried to escape, police said Keel shot him with a handgun. Five people have been charged, but only Keel faces a murder charge.
Two days later, a delivery truck driver found the body of David Guess near the logging road, two miles from where he had been killed. Rings of charred black rubber were marked where police said Keel and several accomplices piled tires on the body and set it on fire.
Tears in Larry Guess’ eyes as he sits at his battered wooden dining table and recalls the phone call David made to him around midnight on March 5. David implored his father to bring him $1,500 right away.
“If you don’t, he’s going to kill me,” David said. Larry replied that he couldn’t get so much money so quickly.
The last words he ever heard from his son before the line was cut were David Guess pleading to someone nearby, “Don’t hit me with that pipe again.”