There was no single shooting that inspired this special portfolio. Instead, the sheer number and variety of homicides included within were meant to be the shocking part. From May 1 to May 7, 1989, TIME tracked every fatal shooting in the United States, presenting all 464 in an exhaustive list — along with photos of the victims and their stories, in an attempt to humanize the tragedies. The victims were killed by their own gun or by someone else’s, by accident or on purpose, and they came from all over: that week, only eight states reported zero gun deaths. California had the highest number, with 68. The cover story estimated that by the end of that year, the total number of gun fatalities in the U.S. would reach 30,000 — a statistic that remained nearly unchanged in 2011.
The victims were frequently those most vulnerable in society: the poor, the young, the abandoned, the ill and the elderly. The most common single cause of death was suicide. People in the grip of despondency or disease who turned their weapons on themselves accounted for 216 deaths, nearly half the total; compounding the tragedy, nine suicides turned their rage outward, first killing someone else, including spouses or other relatives. Another 22 deaths were preventable accidents, often the result of a thoughtless few seconds of play with a supposedly unloaded firearm.