Americans are beginning 2023 with a steady volley of mass slaughter claiming 39 lives — an alarmingly bloody start for the country of more than 333 million people.

Nearly 23 million firearms were sold in 2020, according to industry analysts.
Nearly 23 million firearms were sold in 2020, according to industry analysts. (Reuters)

In a country with more guns than people — and one emerging from three years of isolation, stress and infighting amid the pandemic — Americans are beginning 2023 with a steady barrage of mass slaughter.

Eleven people were killed as they welcomed the Lunar New Year at a dance hall popular with older Asian Americans. A teen mother and her baby were shot in the head in an attack that killed five generations. A 6-year-old shot his first-grade teacher in the classroom — the list goes on.

"We've been through so much in these past few years, and to continue to see case after case of mass violence in the media is just overwhelming," said Apryl Alexander, an associate professor of public health at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. 

"When does this stop?"

The carnage over eight days in California, where the dance hall victims on Saturday night were among two dozen people killed in three recent attacks, brought painful reminders to families of last year's school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 

On Tuesday, several Uvalde families and parents travelled more than three hours to their state's Capitol to renew calls for tighter gun laws, even if they have little chance of winning over the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Americans have come to endure mass shootings in churches and grocery stores, at concerts and office parks, and inside the homes of friends and neighbours. The violence is blamed on hatred toward other communities, grievances within a group, secrets within families and bitterness among colleagues. 

But it often ends when a man with a grudge grabs a gun.

Sometimes, it's not clear whether a grudge is even part of the equation.

"There was no apparent conflict between the parties. The male just walked in and started shooting," Yakima Police Chief Matt Murray said after three people were shot dead at a Circle K convenience store in Washington state early on Tuesday, adding to the national grief.

READ MORE: California shooting death toll rises as authorities identify victims

Nearly 400 million guns in private hands

Gun sales in the US hit historic highs as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, the economy stalled and people took to the streets to protest police brutality and racial injustice. 

Nearly 23 million firearms were sold in 2020, according to industry analysts. 

The surge largely continued the following year, with sales spiking 75 percent the same month that a mob attacked the US Capitol, before dipping to about 16 million this year.

Experts believe there are 393 million guns in private hands across the US, which in 2022 was a country of 333 million people.

Some Americans say they don't feel safe anywhere. A third avoid certain places as a result, according to the American Psychological Association, whose most recent study shows that the majority of Americans feel stressed.

In 2022, the United States marked its first deadly gun rampage of the year on January 23 — a year ago on Monday. By that same date this year, six mass killings have claimed 39 lives, according to a database of mass killings maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.

The bloodshed began on January 4, when a Utah man, investigated but never charged over a 2020 child abuse complaint, shot and killed his wife, her mother and their five children before killing himself.

The database shows 2,793 people have lost their lives in mass killings — those that involve four or more victims, excluding the killer — since 2006. The recent wave of violence follows a spike in 2022, when the US recorded 42 mass killings, the second highest tally in that time span.

Even gun violence that takes fewer lives, or none at all, can shock the conscience.

That was the case in Virginia this month when the 6-year-old shot and wounded his teacher in front of his classmates. Virginia Beach Mayor Phillip Jones said he could barely wrap his head around it. And two teenage students were killed on Monday in a school shooting in Iowa.

In the Saturday night shooting in Monterey Park, 11 people died and nine others were injured when a 72-year-old man opened fire at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio just hours after tens of thousands of revelers filled the streets nearby for Lunar New Year festivities. The gunman took his own life as police approached his van the next day.

Before people across the state could process that horror, seven farmworkers were shot and killed near San Francisco, in the picturesque coastal community of Half Moon Bay. 

A 66-year-old coworker is in custody.

"In the end, there are simply too many guns in this country. And there has to be a change. This is not an acceptable way for a modern society to live and conduct its affairs," San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President Dave Pine said on Monday, in the wake of the mushroom farm shootings. 

"Our hearts are broken."

READ MORE: Biden renews vow to secure new ban on assault weapons plaguing America

READ MORE: US accounted for 73 percent of global mass shootings

Source: AP