Mass Shooting and its strong connection to Domestic Violence in the United States

The U.S. was recently rocked with yet another mass shooting that resulted in the killing of at least 26 people attending a church service in the small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Among the victims were a pregnant woman, her husband, and their three children. The gunman, identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, was court-martialed in 2012 by the Air Force for assault on his spouse and their child, and received a bad conduct discharge.

Despite laws that should have prevented perpetrators convicted of domestic violence from buying firearms, he somehow managed to purchase an assault rifle that was used in this latest mass shooting. How did this happen? The New York Times reports that the Air Force admitted it had failed to enter the man’s domestic violence court-martial into a federal database that could have blocked him from buying the rifle he used to kill 26 people.

Research indicates a strong link between gun violence and domestic violence. A recent study by Everytown for Gun Safety analyzing FBI data and media reports showed that from 2009-2016, 54% of perpetrators of mass shootings were previously perpetrators of domestic or family violence. Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history was reported to have been abusive to his girlfriend. The ex-wife of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, has also said that he beat her repeatedly. The deceased wife of San Bernardino shooter Cedric Anderson had previously accused him of abuse and had filed for divorce.

Domestic violence is a public health emergency, and there is no place that is immune from possible violence. It can, and does, happen anywhere – in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, public spaces and even places of worship. Unfortunately, many times we see the issue of Intimate partner violence and its connection to public terror and community safety continuing to be ignored where much needed budgets and legislation stymied and mired down in bureaucratic processes. Frankly, as a community we are still reluctant to talk about domestic violence and victims continue to live in the shadows, too frightened or embarrassed to reach out for help.

We can do something…we can do many things. We can offer our support to people who are experiencing domestic violence and connect them with help (nextdoor.org or call our 24/7 hotline at (408) 279-2962 available 365 days a year). We can hold decision-makers accountable for their response (or lack of response) to the problem of intimate partner violence and demand funding for much-needed critical crisis intervention services, funding for permanent housing with support services for survivors of domestic violence. As advocates, we must be included when systems are being created that impact survivors and their families. We must address the problem of individuals with a history of domestic violence and their access to guns by enacting (and enforcing) stricter gun control laws and better screenings. In households where an abusive spouse has access to a gun, women are five times more likely to be killed. Currently Federal law prohibits respondents in Orders for Protection from possessing firearms since the passage in 1994 of the original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Many states including California have also legislated prohibitions similar to the federal prohibition. Enforcement of these prohibitions, however, has been an ongoing problem and an area for much needed focus and advocacy.

We can end domestic violence in the moment and for all time and we can increase peace in our community but only when we have peace in the home.