Stray bullets kill bystanders as US shootings soar

A baby in his car seat. A man in bed. A girl walking with her mother: stray bullets killed them days apart as gun violence spreads across the United States.

In addition to those killed in suicides or homicides reaching record levels in some US cities, countless other victims are hit by bullets that were not intended for them.

Deaths can trigger fleeting bursts of media and police attention – similar to the nation’s recurring horror at mass shootings – only for attention to wane until the next tragedy occurs.

“It happens so regularly,” said Chris Herrmann, a gun violence expert at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “If it happened in a foreign country, it would be front page news.”

The city of Atlanta in the southern United States has seen two cases this month.

A 31-year-old British astrophysicist named Matthew Willson was in bed on January 16 when he awoke to the sound of gunfire outside his girlfriend’s flat – and was shot and killed moments later. late.

“It’s impossible to fathom how that’s even true,” her sister Kate Willson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

About a week later, Kerri Gray was driving with her six-month-old son Grayson Fleming-Gray when she heard a noise and two cars sped past.

“There was no breaking of glass, there was no crying. It was instant,” she told reporters after her child was murdered.

Days earlier, eight-year-old Melissa Ortega was walking down a Chicago sidewalk on the afternoon of Jan. 22 when a man tried to shoot another, but killed her instead.

“He took away my purpose of being. The reason I got up every day. He took away a life full of dreams,” the girl’s mother, Araceli Leanos, told Univision TV in Spanish.

The FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they do not track stray bullet deaths in the United States, where some 40,000 people die each year from firearms, the majority of which are suicides .

– “A ball in the head” –
US law enforcement statistics differentiate between accidental and intentional killings, but not the exact circumstances.

Herrmann, the gun violence expert, estimated that stray bullet murders accounted for one to two percent of total firearm deaths – and rose or fell with the total number of shots.

“When there was a 10% increase in shots, there was a 10% increase in unintended targets,” he added, lamenting that the official terminology “targets” is dehumanizing.

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The problem of gun violence in the United States has grown since the pandemic and the racial justice protests in 2020 – and towards the end of 2021, major cities like Philadelphia, Austin, Columbus and Indianapolis reported record numbers of gun violence. annual homicides.

Although the national level of murders is still below the peaks of the 1980s and 1990s, they have increased in 2020 at a rate not seen since national records began in 1960.

Meanwhile, gun sales set a record in 2020 with nearly 23 million sales followed by nearly 20 million sales in 2021, according to consultancy Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting.

Millions of these guns have gone to new owners, who experts say may lack safety training.

“A large number of inexperienced people handling firearms is always a recipe for disaster,” said Peter Squires, professor of criminology at the University of Brighton in Britain.

This stream of weapons can also unleash a hail of festive fire into the sky, to mark a holiday or a special occasion.

“But the bullets fall and hit people often a mile from where the shot was fired,” he noted.

Yet it is the bullet intended for someone else that causes many casualties.

Tiffani Evans, 34, was outside a relative’s home in the state of Maryland, not far from the nation’s capital Washington, having dinner on a hot August night when her son Peyton was killed.

The eight-year-old footballer was inside the house eating and playing video games when the shooting began in a violent rivalry that had nothing to do with the boy.

“My son was sitting at the table with his head down with a bullet in his head,” Evans said, recounting the moment she ran to check on him.

She sees this kind of violence stemming from a series of issues: the lack of government resources to keep young people on the straight and narrow, and parents who don’t teach the sacred value of human life in addition to illegally owned firearms. .

“There is too much access to illegal firearms,” she said. “We have to take it. The government must take it over. »

AFP

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