Casey-Quinn Kooistra had just driven past the intersection of Huguenot & Mulberry Street (across from Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary) in New Paltz when the young mom noticed something suspicious on the side of the road. She pulled over to examine what turned out to be a loaded .38 caliber gun. It was on the ground in front of a park many frequent with kids. That was March 19.
On March 20, there was a shooting at New Paltz’s Órale Mexican Restaurant. It led to two hospitalizations. Fortunately, no one was killed.
Just four days prior was the Atlanta spa shooting, where a gunman entered a spa and killed eight people (six of whom were Asian women). Two days later was a shooting in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado; a young gunman killed 10 shoppers, aged between 20 and 65 years old.
Many have observed that this March seems to be the beginning of a spike in gun-related incidents and killings that had taken a break from dominating headlines during the lockdowns of the past year—in seemingly one of the few positive symptoms of the pandemic.
In a tweet, Rep. Ted Deutsch (D-Fla) said, “We’ve been looking forward to so many ways we could return to normal, to the way things were before the pandemic. Mass shootings were not what anyone had in mind.”
It’s true that the large-scale public gun violence that typically makes headlines was down during the pandemic (with two in 2020, compared to eight or nine on average in previous years). But mass shootings, defined as instances where four or more people are shot, were up by 50% in 2020. There were 611 mass shootings, making 2020 one of the most violent years in recent memory.
In fact, 2020 had the highest spike in gun crimes in over 20 years, according to ProCon.org. In some states, gun-related crimes doubled.
But for many in New Paltz, instances of reckless and unsafe gun use are new. In a town as tiny as New Paltz, any news of the sort can hit close to home, figuratively and literally.
Fourth-year Black studies and sociology student Phoebe Balousek expressed her concerns.
“I’m worried, especially because clearly [gun owners in the town] are not responsible for their guns. How do you lose a gun on the road? But I’m also really upset that the school didn’t say anything to me. I wouldn’t have known.”
Balousek also mentioned that her fear is compounded by being a person of color for two reasons: the town of New Paltz is “more conservative than you’d think” making her feel like a target from any racists in town and “especially because I don’t trust the police department here.”
The student went on to list several times that people of color in New Paltz she knew were racially profiled, experienced police brutality or simply were not given help when they needed it, making her unsure where to turn if she’s ever in danger.
Just before my conversation with Balousek, I spoke with the police chief at the New Paltz Police Department to see what resources they had available for people in town who were feeling similarly unsafe after hearing the news of the increase in reckless gun use in New Paltz.
“I don’t know why people might feel unsafe. I can’t… there’s nothing to really [say],” offered Police Chief Robert Lucchessi.
Phoebe testifies that she does not feel safe and exactly why: “[Guns] really genuinely scare me alot. They’re capable of so much—one bullet takes a whole life. I’ve never seen a gun do something good.”
As not just New Paltz, but the whole nation grapples with the repercussions of using guns recklessly, many have questions. Every several months, there seems to be a cluster of headlines that pop up about recent mass shootings and then the conversation about gun control is revisited.
But is this pattern normal? Is this much gun violence typical?
Statistically, no. America has an abnormally high rate of gun violence compared to other countries.
Although America is home to just 4.4% of the world’s population, it’s the land of 42% of the world’s guns. Gun ownership and gun crimes are statistically correlated, meaning the more guns, the more likely there are to be more homicides, suicides and mass shootings. Between 1966 and 2012, 31% of mass shootings worldwide occured in America.
To get involved, donate and/or learn more about gun control, check out: Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America or, more locally, NY Forward and Democracy Matters.