A few hours of celebration turned into mourning at a high school graduation party in South Carolina in June when two vehicles pulled up and as many as 70 bullets were fired into the crowd, police said.
Audrionna Kind, 32, was killed, and eight others — mostly teenagers — were injured.
Kind, a mother of five, died days before the congressional committee hearing on gun violence that featured gut-wrenching stories from survivors and victims’ families. Lawmakers heard anecdotes from mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, where two 18-year-old gunmen used AR-15-style semi-automatic weapons to carry out their massacres.
During the public hearing, entitled “The Urgent Need to Address the Gun Violence Epidemic,” 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo recounted her quick thinking to smear a classmate’s blood on her body to trick the Uvalde gunman, and Garnell Whitfield Jr. testified about burying his elderly mother, who was a pillar of her Buffalo neighborhood.
But there was no mention of Kind or the 150 people who attended the fateful graduation party in South Carolina. There was no testimony from witnesses of recent shootings in Kissimmee, Florida; Colorado Springs, Colorado, or Yakima, Washington, where multiple casualties were caused by bullets fired from vehicles.
There was no acknowledgement of any of the drive-by mass shootings that have killed or injured nearly 200 people this year — four times as many casualties as have been left by mass shootings in schools, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Drive-bys typically involve two or more people, with a passenger firing from inside a moving vehicle or a gunman exiting the vehicle to fire before quickly driving off. They are a nationwide phenomenon that has destroyed funerals and celebrations, family barbecues and children’s birthdays. Grandmothers have been killed while sitting on their porches. Infants have been killed in the backseat of a car.
The incidents have “plagued” Black and brown communities for generations, said Lynda R. Williams, a retired U.S. Secret Service agent and an appointed member of the Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council. But despite their ubiquity, drive-by shootings have not been a focus in the national conversation on gun violence.
“Gun violence is a universal problem,” Williams said. “These things always do occur in Black and brown communities that don’t get the notoriety, they don’t get the attention, they don’t get the immediate response, that as it relates in comparison to non-Black and brown communities.”
Since 2013, when the GVA launched, there have been more than 700 drive-by mass shootings that resulted in four or more injuries and deaths. Those incidents have killed 460 people and injured 3,017 more. By comparison, there have been 27 school mass shootings during that time, in which 125 people were killed and 175 were injured.
The GVA is a not-for-profit organization that tracks and categorizes gun violence incidents using information from law enforcement, news media, government, and commercial sources.
Assault weapons — automatic or semi-automatic firearms typically designed for military use and hunting — are an increasingly common feature of drive-bys. Since 2013, the GVA has recorded 37 drive-by shootings in which at least one assault-style weapon was used, killing 153 people and injuring 420. In 2014, there were 3 incidents involving an assault weapon; that jumped to 37 in 2016 and hit its peak in 2020 at 86.
Also in 2020, according to a report released in May by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment, the agency found that 2,760,263 more assault-style weapons were manufactured.
Past efforts to address gun violence
Following a series of congressional hearings on gun violence, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle presented a potential gun safety legislative agreement on June 12. The agreement echoed many, but not all, of the solutions President Joe Biden touted during a primetime speech on May 31 that called on members of Congress to “finally do something” about the ongoing gun violence plague.
The proposed bill — led by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, — includes billions in funding for federal gun violence prevention efforts, creates new federal criminal offenses for straw purchasing and firearms trafficking and enhances background checks for those ages 18 to 20 seeking to purchase a long gun. A chunk of the federal funds — $3 billion — will be for school and community mental health grants and activities.
But, what does that mean for people like Kind, potential victims of drive by shootings?
Ron Hampton, a retired police officer with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., and adviser for the National Black Police Association, said that because lawmakers did not deal with the influx of illegal guns on the streets in the past, “we are now seeing our failures in society.”
“What has happened now is that [anyone] can get their hands on semi-automatic weapons that have cartridges that can hold 20 to 30 rounds. So when you talk about a drive-by shooting with an automatic weapon, all you gotta do is hold on the trigger and empty the clip, it’s unbelievable,” Hampton said. “The guns have gotten larger and the results are even more devastating.”
There was federal action against assault weapons in 1994 when President Bill Clinton enacted a ban, but that did not stop the production of those weapons. In 2000, there were nearly 1.6 million assault-style weapons manufactured, the ATF reported.
Clinton’s federal ban was lifted in 2004, and only seven states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — and Washington, D.C., enacted state laws banning assault-style weapons.
“Following this expiration, manufacture of the types of semi-automatic rifles and pistols previously designated to be assault weapons steadily increased, particularly AR-type rifles and pistols,” according to the ATF report.
The illegal trafficking of guns creates another hurdle to combating gun violence. Thousands of guns are illegally transported annually through “The Iron Pipeline,” the Interstate 95 highway route from Southern states where guns can be purchased with less scrutiny to Northern states that have tougher gun laws.
For instance, Chicago leads the country with 120 drive-by mass shootings since 2013, according to the GVA, and neighboring Indiana does not require firearm dealers to conduct background checks to transfer a long gun. Indiana does have laws that require the dealer to initiate a background check when transferring a handgun.
Of those Chicago drive-by shootings, nearly 500 people were injured — including 15 who were shot in July 2020 while attending a funeral for another drive-by shooting victim — and more than 60 were killed. Police said that the shooting was gang-related, and they were present at the funeral home along with a tactical team as a precaution if a retaliation shooting occurred. No arrests have been made, according to a records request made by Capital B to the Chicago Police Department.
Under the Biden administration, the DOJ has taken steps to crack down on the illegal transport of firearms up and down the East Coast by increasing federal prosecutorial resources that include federal agents working closely with local law enforcement to solve crimes.
Ultimately, Hampton says, there are too many legal and illegal guns circulating across the country — to the point where every man, woman, and child can have up to four firearms per person.
“In cities like New York and in Washington, D.C., what we have is a problem that guns and weapons were brought into the city from outside the city, because Maryland and Virginia have gun stores so you can buy a gun,” Hampton said. “I don’t believe you can stop the proliferation of illegal handguns. If somebody wants to get an illegal gun, they’re going to get one.”
A persistent form of violence
Drive-by shootings have been reported in every state in the country and Washington, D.C., and in territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, as well as St. Thomas and St. Croix islands, according to the GVA.
They are a pervasive and persistent form of American gun violence. Several cities — including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans — have endured dozens of drive-by shootings since 2013, according to the GVA.
While drive-bys commonly have been associated with gang-related conflicts, they can result from “road rage or personal disputes between neighbors, acquaintances, or strangers,” according to a 2007 workbook for police on drive-by shootings. They can often result in the injury or death of innocent bystanders, like Kind.
These violent and often deadly crimes are not unique to Black and brown communities.
One of the deadliest drive-by mass shootings involving an assault rifle was in August 2019 when Seth Ator went on a shooting rampage in Odessa, Texas, that started with a traffic stop in which he used an assault-style weapon to open fire at police. Ator ultimately killed eight and injured 23 during his rampage, which continued as he drove on highways and into residential areas. He stopped at a movie theater parking lot and was killed during a shootout with police.
An assault-style weapon also was used in a drive-by shooting in Corning, California, when Kevin Neal went on a shooting rampage in November 2017, firing 30 shots into an elementary school. Neal was killed by police after he murdered four and injured 10.
Unfortunately, for Kind and hundreds of other families of bystanders, solving these cases are often difficult for police. Investigation into drive-by shootings requires cooperation from witnesses and the community, Hampton said. They often include a thorough crime scene evaluation to collect any shell casings left behind, with the aim to trace them back to the weapon, and reviewing video from doorbell cameras, city-installed cameras, and cellphones.
But investigators “often receive very limited information from witnesses,” according to the DOJ guide, “because most drive-by shootings occur at night, happen very quickly and thus are very chaotic, and occur in neighborhoods in which gang members intimidate residents, some of whom distrust the police.”
“When these young people get their hands on these guns and they’re driving cars, it doesn’t take much imagination” on how to do a drive-by shooting because of the prevalence in entertainment, said Hampton, who was on the force for 24 years until 1994. According to IMDB, there have been nearly 400 movies and television shows that have depicted drive-by shooting scenes since 1931.
For Williams, the solution to drive-bys and other common types of gun violence is “everyday citizens have to look out for each other, be more vigilant, and more alert so that when you see something, you need to report it.”
Grassroots organizations, elected officials, and anti-gun violence advocates have been working in their communities for decades to combat the problem. In June, Brooklyn, New York, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced a multimillion-dollar investment into gang violence prevention programs and youth engagement as well as the creation of a “Digital Evidence Lab, a new Ghost gun Unit and an executive position focusing on gun violence reduction.”
In Kind’s death, investigators said that the shooting may have stemmed from a previous gang-related drive-by shooting in other parts of the county. An FBI’s gang task force was called in to assist with the investigation.
Three suspects, ages 18 to 21, have been arrested and charged by Clarendon County police with murder, eight counts of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. A fourth suspect, who is 21 years old, turned himself in following a news conference announcing the arrests of his alleged accomplices.
Williams says that between the uptick of white supremacy threats on communities of color, lax gun laws, systemic racism, and injustices, “all of it is a recipe for disaster; it’s a ticking time bomb, but it’s not about if it’s going to happen again, but when.”