Living with gun violence as shootings across US continue to rise

ABC News has taken an in-depth look at the gun violence problem in the U.S.

In Philadelphia, there were 1,500 people shot through October this year, with nearly 400 people killed, according to data from the city's Office of the Controller.

At numerous schools in Philadelphia, students district wide are worried about going to school.

"The environment is a hostile environment," Joshua Corneilius, a 17-year-old senior at a north Philadelphia school, told ABC News. "It's a real war zone."

"American Epidemic: One Nation Under Fire" is on ABC News Live TONIGHT at 8:30 p.m. ET, and will be available on Hulu.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw told ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas that while the city is seeing a reduction in gun violence, they are still confiscating guns at a record pace.

Danielle Outlaw, in civilian attire, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, participates in the Freedom Day march in celebration of Juneteenth, in West Philadelphia, PA, June 19, 2021.
Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via AP, FILE

"We're on pace to get 6,000 illegal crime guns off the street this year; we've made a record number of arrests for carrying guns illegally," she said. "We're dealing with a culture here, there's a culture of violence that we are trying to break through."

Gun violence is not unique to Philadelphia. In cities all over the country, homicides have been on the rise this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

ABC News has been tracking the gun violence across the country -- and amid a spike against the backdrop of the pandemic, thousands of Americans are meeting a violent end from firearms. During just one week in July, there were 430 deaths and over a 1,000 people shot, according to data collected from the Gun Violence Archive.

"The number of families that are impacted in 2021, [are] more than in 2020, more than 2019," Mark Bryant, executive director of the Gun Violence Archive, told ABC News as part of an in-depth project examining the toll of gun violence and potential solutions for an ABC News Live special, "American Epidemic: One Nation Under Fire."

The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit database that tracks gun violence across the county, said more than 17,000 people have died this year as a result of guns, not including suicides, and more than 34,000 people have been injured.

Fatal domestic violence incidents have also accelerated during the pandemic. According to a study from The Reveal and from The Center of Investigative Reporting, homicides caused by gunfire between intimate partners rose 25% from 2019 to 2020.

ABC News' Pierre Thomas during an interview for gun violence.
ABC News

In addition to domestic violence and urban shootings that are on the rise in 2021, mass shootings are also up, the archive said. So far this year, there have already been more than 600 mass shootings, with four or more people shot or killed. According to the archive, there were 611 mass shootings in 2020, 417 in 2019, 336 in 2018 and 346 in 2017.

Ten people, including a police officer, were killed in Boulder, Colorado, in March when a gunman opened fire at a King Soopers grocery store, where residents had gathered to shop and receive COVID-19 vaccines. As of Nov. 9, it was the deadliest mass shooting of 2021.

Emily Giffen, who was an employee at the supermarket when the shooting started, recalled the moment the shooting began.

"I was watching like a show I was really hooked on Netflix on my phone," Emily Giffen told Thomas. "I heard just like pop, pop, pop."

The shooting of the first victim occurred right in front of her, she said.

"She called me, and she was screaming, and I really couldn't even understand much," Rona Trout, Giffen's mother, told ABC News.

"There was just a bunch of pops," Giffen said. "And the man fell and was on the ground. And then we see the attacker come up; he has his larger gun and shot that man like five more times in the back."

The suspected shooter, 22-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, was charged with 10 counts of murder. Experts and psychologists have since said he is not competent to stand trial.

The shooting scarred Giffen, who moved back home to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Emily Giffen is seen in this undated selfie.
Emily Giffen

"For the first like month, and it was just every time I close my eyes, it was it was the only thing I could see," she said. "I avoid going out to like big holiday gatherings. I get very stressed out at big events."

Giffen has a new job working with her dad in Pennsylvania. She said she hopes more can be done to address the issue of gun violence, as the pain of the incident continues to haunt her to this day.

"There are days where I'll be driving to work and I'll just start tearing up ... it is hard," she said.

So far this year, there have been 17,723 deaths due to gun violence, not including suicides. There were more than 19,400 shooting deaths in 2020; 15,400 in 2019; 14,800 in 2018 and 15,600 in 2017.

ABC News' Sarah Baniak contributed to this report.

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