24 hours, seven mass shootings — as an election looms, what does a day of gun violence look like for the United States?

Gun Rights

It is 1am on March 31, a week ago, when an unknown man opens fire on a group of young women celebrating a birthday in Chicago, Illinois. 

WARNING: This story contains content that may be distressing for some readers.

The group are in their teens – among them is 19-year-old Arianna Murphy, who has only been at the party for a few minutes.

She has just graduated top of her class and is about to start nursing school. 

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A ”smart and loving”, “very outgoing person”, her family says she has a vibrant energy and a signature smile. 

She dies at the scene. Four others, all aged between 16 and 20 years old, are also shot and taken to hospital.

The gunman flees.

In the hours to come, nearby residents will go out into the street to scrub the blood from the cement themselves.

It is the first mass shooting of the day. There are six more to come.

Hundreds of children and teens already killed by guns in 2024

There have already been 4,138 deaths linked to gun violence across the United States in 2024, according to independent research organisation the Gun Violence Archive (GVA). 

Among those killed, 355 were children and teenagers. More than 350 incidents were “unintentional”. 

GVA defines a “mass shooting” as “a minimum of four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured in the incident”. 

Bede Harris, an expert in constitutional law at Charles Sturt University, says while every state varies, all “ultimately come up against the problem that … the US Supreme Court has the final say”. 

The US constitution enshrines gun rights under the Second Amendment — saying a “well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. 

In 2022 the Supreme Court ruled that local governments could regulate, but not eradicate, the core right to bear arms — labelling gun rights as a fundamental right. 

“And because the US Supreme Court case law that’s been established over the decades is relatively lax, many attempts by states to limit gun ownership fall foul of the US constitution,” Dr Harris says. 

“I mean in Arizona … you can walk around on the streets with a gun openly strapped to your belt, but you can’t do that in New York. 

“Even in an ideal world where it was changed, there’d be a severe practical problem of then reigning in gun ownership because there’s hundreds of millions of firearms in the US.” 

Illinois, where the first mass shooting of March 31 took place, is a “national leader”, ranked third in the country for its gun laws by gun control advocacy group Everytown. 

“Illinois is surrounded by states with much weaker laws,” the non-profit says in its state report card.

“And an outsized share of likely trafficked guns recovered in Illinois are originally purchased out-of-state — especially in Indiana, just across the border from Chicago.” 

‘The wrong place at the wrong time’

One hour after the first mass shooting in Chicago there will be a second one, this time almost 1,400 kilometres away in Dublin, Georgia.

A car pulls up outside a home on West Avenue, and someone in the car fires multiple shots at a crowd of people.

Miyori Ellington, 23, and Sacred Brown 24, die from their injuries. Five others are taken to hospital.

At the same time police three states away in Paris, Texas will start getting multiple 911 calls — someone has opened fire during a block party. 

Two men nearby have gotten into a fight that escalates into a shooting and injures four people. 

Police say there are approximately 80 empty shell casings at the scene, from various calibre weapons. 

At 4:20am, local time, 29-year-old Stefon Barnes is buying a bag of chips at a deli in the Bronx, New York.

He’s a frequent customer, a familiar face for the workers behind the counter.

Despite the early hour the shop is packed with customers, dancing and singing, when a scuffle breaks out – video shows a man in a ski mask attempting to rifle through another man’s pockets.

As the struggle escalates and another man joins in, a gun goes off.

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Stefon is shot in the right thigh and taken to hospital in critical condition, where he’s later pronounced dead.

“After the surgery, his heart could not handle it,” his father, Martin Barnes, will tell the media later.

“He was a good kid. [He] never got into any trouble. … He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Gun ownership rooted in ‘culture’, ‘history’, ‘tradition’

As Stefon is bleeding out, the day’s third mass shooting is unfolding in Jackson, Mississippi.

A 19-year-old is killed and three other people are wounded at 5am at a convenience shop on Highway 80.

The city’s police chief will later tell local media the two people they suspect are responsible “don’t care” about nearby surveillance cameras. 

“It’s another situation where young men and individuals do not know how to resolve conflict without introducing guns to the situation,” Chief Joseph Wade says.

The incidents of gun violence — each recorded by the GVA — continue throughout the morning. 

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At 5:30am in Memphis, Tennessee, police respond to a shooting at an apartment building. 

At 5:40am in Colorado Springs, officers arrive at a roadside inn and find a man with a life-threatening gunshot wound. The killer has already fled the scene. 

At 6am in Kansas City, 59-year-old Leo Dorch is walking down a residential street, carrying a handgun. 

Police receive a 911 call for help and try to negotiate with Leo to put the gun down. 

He points the weapon in the officers direction. They open fire. 

Missouri State Highway Patrol officials later announce he has been pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

Everytown ranks Missouri as 38th in the nation for gun laws, and says it experiences “one of the highest rates of deaths, gun homicide rates, and household firearm ownership”.

Kansas City, the state’s capital, was the scene for a shooting at the Super Bowl victory parade. 

The incident, which garnered global attention, saw one person killed and 22 more shot, including 11 children. 

University of Melbourne Professor of American Politics, Timothy J Lynch, says for Americans, gun control is more than just an issue with the US government or the legal system.

“I think Australians look at it as a technocratic [government] issue,” he says.

“If there’s a massacre, how do you stop it? You illegalise guns. We did it after the Tasmanian massacre.

“There just seems to be a logic to it, but we don’t have a connection to guns that’s rooted in our culture and history and that’s a very powerful part of our political identity.

“[In the] US gun rights stand not just for a right to self protection … but the whole concept of one’s identity. It’s a tradition, it’s a lifestyle.

“And getting the government to change that, to change your connection to notions of identity itself and where you sit in the culture is really extraordinarily difficult.”

‘It was just mass chaos’

Chicago again becomes the scene of a mass shooting at 2:50pm. 

Two men climb out of a car and shoot at a group of four on the street. 

Johnveir Winn-Mckeever, 16, is taken to hospital in critical condition and later succumbs to a gunshot wound to the head.

Three other people are also injured. 

The fifth mass shooting of the day comes just 10 minutes later, at 3pm in Nashville, Tennessee. 

A man and a woman arrive at a busy restaurant — police say it’s unclear what happens next, but an argument between the man and another patron escalates “within moments”. 

Shots are fired. Panic breaks out. 

“Some people did try to resist the gunman,” says police commander Anthony McClain.

“It was just mass chaos …  It may have been something as simple as one person invading another person’s space.” 

Allen Beachem, 33 — a volunteer firefighter, military veteran and coach to his children’s basketball team — is killed. 

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It will be days before 46-year-old Anton Rucker is arrested in a different state.

‘Everything was beautiful … and the shooting rang out’ 

There are at least six more gun violence incidents recorded by GVA in the hours before the next mass shooting. 

In one incident, a three-year-old at a park in Atlanta, Georgia is grazed by a bullet. 

Just hours earlier there had been an Easter egg hunt at the same park, residents tell local media. 

“It was crowded, everything was beautiful, people was mingling, and the shooting rang out, and everybody started running,” one says.

Georgia has “some of the weakest gun laws in the country”, according to Everytown. 

“[The] state still has a dangerous Shoot First law that allows a person to kill another in a public area, even when they can safely walk away from the danger,” the state’s report card reads.

Bruce Wolpe, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre, says the gun debate is “deadlocked” for Republicans and Democrats.

“We have more guns in the United States than people,” he says.

“And when you reach that level of proliferation of guns throughout a country, there’s almost nothing that can be done to stop them.

“For Republicans … if you’re a supporter of gun rights, you will be more likely to vote than non-supporters of gun rights.

“On the Democratic side, particularly young people … [gun control] has been a driver of political support.”

Jackson gets its second mass shooting at 8pm, when five people are injured at Mary C Jones Park. 

One of the victims is an eight-year-old boy. 

Witnesses say the shooting happens during a private birthday party, when 19-year-old Zykia Winford allegedly pulls a handgun from her purse and opens fire. 

Along with the eight-year-old and Ms Winford, a 16-year-old, a 20-year-old and a 43-year-old are taken to hospital. 

Does ‘extensive suffering’ have to be the reality for Americans? 

The GVA ultimately records 248 shootings over the Easter holiday weekend — at least 90 people killed and 228 more wounded. 

Everytown says the violence across the Easter weekend underscores an “urgent need for action”.

Angela Ferrell-Zabala, the executive director of Moms Demand Action, says the weekend brings with it “extensive suffering”.

“The fact that celebrating holidays in America is consistently accompanied by overwhelming gun violence is simply unacceptable,” she says.

“This does not have to be our reality.”

In February, former president and Republican election frontrunner Donald Trump told thousands at an event organised by the National Rifle Association (NRA) he would undo all gun restrictions enacted by the Biden administration. 

“Every single Biden attack on gun owners and manufacturers will be terminated on my very first week back in office, perhaps my first day,” he told the crowd at the NRA’s Presidential Forum. 

President Joe Biden spoke emphatically on ending gun violence during his State of the Union address just a few weeks later. 

“After another school shooting in Iowa [Donald Trump] said we should just ‘get over it’. I say we must stop it,” he said.

“I’m demanding a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Pass universal background checks.” 

Asked whether they can foresee a future in which gun control was effectively in place in the US, the experts who spoke to the ABC are in agreement. 

“I think there’s no likelihood at all that the constitution would ever be changed so as to either remove or limit that right … I just don’t see it within the realms of possibility now,” Dr Harris says. 

Professor Wolpe says: “There will be no change. Zero.” 

“It will take such an upheaval, say the Democratic party becomes the super-majority party and can overcome these roadblocks [in] the political system.” 

Professor Lynch agrees, saying gun ownership is deeply embedded in America’s national identity. 

“To understand where this right comes from and what it stands for, it’s in the constitution, it’s written down,” he says.

“Now getting rid of guns is like getting rid of the right to religious freedom or the right to free speech. [It’s] extraordinarily difficult to abrogate those.

“And then … it stands for a notion of American identity. It’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a tradition and it’s very hard to shift those in the minds of people.

“Gun rights, I think, will be around for as long as the American Republic itself is around.”

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The final mass shooting of March 31 comes at 11pm. 

A large group of people are gathered outside a sports bar in St Petersburg, Florida.

Grainy surveillance footage from a nearby home records the sound of gunshots as a verbal argument between a group of men leads to a shoot-out. 

Bystanders and cars are caught in the crossfire. Ultimately four people, including a 17-year-old girl, are injured. 

 “It sounded like a war out here last night,” a witness tells local media. 

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