So far, 2023 has become the second worst year for mass killings in the United States on record, according to The Associated Press. On Wednesday, a shooter in Lewiston, Maine, killed at least 18 people and injured 13 more at a bowling alley and local restaurant. A manhunt for a suspect is still underway as of Thursday morning.
The event marks the 36th mass killing this year, according to a database maintained by the AP, USA Today, and Northeastern University. That resource reports that at least 188 people have died in the U.S. so far because of mass killings — incidents in which four or more people, not including the killer, have died in a 24-hour period. According to AP, this is the same definition the FBI uses. Also, the definition for “mass killing” does not apply only to shootings; the database includes instances of stabbing and death-by-fire, in addition to gun deaths.
The worst year for mass killings on record was 2019 when the database tracked 46 events for the full year (only 10 more than have occurred so far this year). Since 2006, the States have seen 568 mass killings, according to the database.
The first documented mass killing of 2023 occurred almost immediately. On Jan. 4, a man in Enoch, Utah, shot his wife, mother-in-law, and five children to death. He also killed himself. The incident occurred weeks after his wife filed for divorce and child protective services began investigating him for abuse.
Six other incidents occurred in various locations around the United States in January alone. The database has tracked at least one mass killing every month this year.
The deadliest so far has been Wednesday night’s event in Maine. It took place in highly public settings, where people were enjoying relaxation. This is similar to the other deadliest events this year, which took place at a Chinese Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, California, leaving 11 dead, and at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas, where eight died. Other mass killings have taken place in schools and banks.
The most frequent kind of mass killings this year, however, hasn’t been in public. They’ve occurred in family settings, like the one in Utah.
Earlier this year, the BBC analyzed why mass shootings, in particular, have been on the rise in the United States. It found that Americans now own more guns than in history. Gun sales reached a record high in 2020, with 23 million documented firearms sold. The FBI also reported doing more background checks for gun purchases following times of unrest, such as following the death of George Floyd and the Capitol insurrection. With more guns in people’s hands, gun violence of all types (including homicide and suicide) has risen in the United States.
Although mass shootings account for only 1.1 percent of gun deaths in the United States, according to the BBC, active shooter incidents have been on the rise. Nine of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in the country’s history have occurred in the past 16 years.
In May, experts on gun violence told The Associated Press the reasons why it is on the rise include more guns being sold, weaker laws restricting the sales of guns, stress following the Covid pandemic, a divisive political climate, and “an increased emphasis on violence in U.S. culture.”
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that the killing spree on Wednesday nearly matches the number of homicides Maine usually sees in a whole year. David St. Pierre, police chief in Lewiston, Maine, commented, “This is truly a tragedy that goes beyond comprehension.”