Mass shootings stir US fears

Caution tape remains on a door after an early morning mass shooting in downtown Austin, Texas.
Caution tape remains on a door after an early morning mass shooting in downtown Austin, Texas.

Two people have been killed and at least 30 others wounded in mass shootings in three states, authorities say, stoking concerns that a spike in US gun violence could continue into summer as coronavirus restrictions ease and more people are free to socialise.

The attacks took place late on Friday or early Saturday in the Texas capital of Austin, Chicago and Savannah, Georgia.

In Austin, authorities said they arrested one of two male suspects and were searching for the other after a shooting early on Saturday on a crowded pedestrian-only street packed with bars and restaurants.

Fourteen people were wounded, including two critically, in the gunfire, which the city's interim police chief said is believed to have started as a dispute between two parties.

In Chicago, a woman was killed and nine other people were wounded when two men opened fire on a group standing on a footpath on the city's south side.

The shooters also got away and had not been identified by mid-afternoon on Saturday.

In the Georgia city of Savannah, police said one man was killed and seven other people - including an 18-month-old and a 13-year-old - were wounded in a mass shooting on Friday evening, police said.

Savannah's police chief, Roy Minter Jr, said the shooting may be linked to an ongoing dispute between two groups.

"It's very disturbing what we're seeing across the country and the level of gun violence that we're seeing across the country," he told reporters.

The attacks come amid an easing of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in much of the country.

Many hoped a spike in US shootings and homicides last year was an aberration perhaps caused by pandemic-related stress amid a rise in gun ownership and debate over policing.

But those rates are still higher than they were in pre-pandemic times, including in cities that refused to slash police spending following the death of George Floyd and those that made modest cuts.

"There was a hope this might simply be a statistical blip that would start to come down," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.

"That hasn't happened. And that's what really makes chiefs worry that we may be entering a new period where we will see a reversal of 20 years of declines in these crimes."

Many types of crime did decline in 2020 and have stayed lower this year, suggesting the pandemic and the activism and unrest spurred by the reaction to Floyd's death did not lead to an overall spike in crime.

According to a database compiled by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University, only three mass shootings occurred at public places - the lowest total for that category in a decade - out of 19 total mass shootings in 2020.

The database tracks all mass killings including shootings, defined as four or more people dead not including the perpetrator.

According to that definition, there have been 17 mass killings, 16 of those shootings, already this year, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor at Northeastern University.

The Gun Violence Archive defines mass shootings as those involving four or more people who were shot, regardless of whether they died.

According to its database, more than 8700 people have died of gun violence in the US this year.

"It's worrisome," Fox said. "We have a blend of people beginning to get out and about in public. We have lots of divisiveness. And we have more guns and warm weather. It's a potentially deadly mix."

Australian Associated Press