Gun Violence in America: A Long List of Forgotten Victims

ATHENS, Alabama –

Amid the tide of mass shootings that have become chillingly common in America, the reality of the nation’s staggering murder rate can often be seen most clearly in the deaths that never make the national news.

Take this weekend in Chicago. On Monday, a rooftop shooter opened fire on the crowd gathered for an Independence Day parade in a Chicago suburb, killing at least seven people and wounding about 30.

Less talked about, 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 of the gun violence in America is related to seemingly normal disputes that get out of hand and someone goes for a gun. Black people are disproportionately affected by gun violence in the United States and are much more likely to be victims of gun crime or homicide.

Often the victim and the shooter know each other. They are co-workers and acquaintances, brothers and neighbors. They are killed in farming villages, small towns and crowded 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 and dumped in an Alabama woods near a place called Chicken Foot by an acquaintance. Mountain.

His murder drew little attention outside of rural north Alabama, where Guess grew up and later worked as a mechanic and truck driver. But his death destroyed many lives.

“It’s been absolutely devastating” for the Guess family, said his brother, Daniel Guess. His father, Larry, 72, now rarely leaves his house and often stays in bed.

Daniel didn’t just lose his brother in the shooting.

“I’ve lost my dad too,” he said. “She’s killing my dad.”


Compared to much of the developed world, the United States is a killer country. The United Nations estimates that the US murder rate 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 if Americans often see the country’s streets as increasingly dangerous scenes of mass public murder, 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 from suicide. Mass shootings, defined as the deaths of four or more people, not including the shooter, have killed 85 to 175 people each year for the past decade.

Also, while firearm murders in the United States increased tremendously in 2020, recent statistics indicate that they are declining this year in many cities.

To further complicate matters: Data on gun murders is woefully incomplete, with just over 60 percent of the country’s law enforcement agencies reporting crime statistics to the FBI’s national database.

“Our lack of shooting data is devastating for understanding gun violence trends,” said Jeff Asher, a data analyst and co-founder of the firm AH Datalytics, which builds its own crime database to try to get around some of those. deficiencies. “This is a government problem, but citizens are forced to develop alternative solutions” to create a clearer picture of what is happening.

While the FBI collects crime data across the country, participation is voluntary at the federal level and thousands of law enforcement agencies do not submit information or submit partial information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does a careful count of homicides, but its data on each death is limited.

So when politicians debate whether AR-15-style rifles lead to more murders, or extended magazines that carry more bullets lead to more deaths, no one is really sure. CDC statistics for 2020, for example, show that authorities know what type of weapon was used in only 24 percent of firearm deaths. In the meantime, both sides in the gun control debate can frame what facts there are to suit their purposes.


Across America, people are afraid.

Nearly a third said they can’t go anywhere without worrying about being the victim of a mass shooting, according to a 2019 survey by the American Psychological Association. Nearly a quarter said they have changed their way of life to avoid mass shootings, sometimes avoiding public events, shopping malls and movie theaters.

But are they afraid of the wrong things?

“The coverage has given people the impression that things are different today, that we’ve never experienced these (mass murders) before. But we have. It’s more common now, but it’s still extremely, extremely rare.” given the size of the American population, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who has been tracking mass murder since 2006 with The Associated Press and USA Today.

He believes the hyperventilation of news coverage has contributed to the fear, with overwhelming live coverage of mass shootings and reports conflating mass shootings, where multiple people are injured, with mass murder. Only 5% of mass shootings end with four or more people dead, he said, “and only a quarter of them happen in schools, churches and public places like that.”

Fox does not minimize the horror of mass murders or the pain they inflict on victims, families and communities. But he worries that US responses — active shooter drills, for example, and bunker-style schools — will produce unbridled fears and wasted resources.

They also give people the wrong impression of how Americans die. Most homicides, he says, are when one person kills another.

And one thing for sure: You’ve never heard of most of those shooting victims.

They are people like Oneil Anderson, owner of Love Cuts barbershop in Miami Gardens, Florida, who police say was killed outside his shop in March, allegedly by a former customer. There’s Leslie Bailor, whose husband allegedly shot her repeatedly inside her central Pennsylvania home in April and then called police. She was dead when they arrived. There’s Jailyn Logan-Bledso, 18, who was shot to death two weeks ago at a gas station outside Chicago by two men who stole her car and disappeared.

On June 26, Atlanta police say Brittany Macon, a 26-year-old employee at a Subway sandwich shop, was shot to death when a customer became enraged and opened fire. She also injured another employee. The customer, police said, was angry that she had too much mayonnaise on her sandwich.

The killings are often associated with big cities like Chicago, where police say most killings have some link to gang rivalries, which in recent years have often festered on social media before spilling over onto the streets. . But while Chicago’s murder rate is high, with nearly 800 murders in the city of 2.7 million last year, its per capita rate is lower than many smaller cities.

Gun deaths are far from being a big city phenomenon. Nearly 30 percent of all gun deaths in 2020 occurred in smaller cities and rural areas across the country, according to the CDC. Half were in large cities and their suburbs, with about 20 percent in midsize cities and counties.

Lawrence County, Alabama, where Guess was killed, had two other murders that same week in March. That’s more than die 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 killed himself. In the other, a son is accused of beating his mother to death with an ashtray and other household items because she got rid of her dog and refused to take him to see her girlfriend.


David Guess’s death began with an argument over a car part.

Guess had battled 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. In recent weeks, he lived in a trailer parked next to his father’s trailer.

He, said his brother, “would give you the shirt off 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. Later that night, another man, Charles Allan Keel, arrived. He insisted Guess owed him $1,500 for a catalytic converter, which has become valuable for scrap due to the expensive metals it contains.

Keel, 43, along with his 17-year-old son and other men beat Guess up and someone hit him in the head with a pipe, police say. As Guess was trying to escape, police say Keel shot him with a pistol. Five people have been charged, but only Keel faces a murder charge.

Two days later, a delivery truck driver found the remains of David Guess near the logging road, two miles from where he had been killed. Charred black rubber rings marked where police say Keel and several accomplices had piled tires on the body and set it on fire.

Larry Guess’s eyes fill with tears as he sits at his battered wood 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 that much money that fast.

The last words he heard from his son before the line went dead were David Guess imploring someone close to him, “Don’t hit me with that pipe again.”

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