The names Nikolas Cruz, Devin Kelley, Omar Mateen, Stephen Paddock and Adam Lanza invoke the terror of the U.S.’ seemingly innumerable mass shootings. These rampages—in places like schools, churches, nightclubs and concerts—have rattled the nation and sparked calls for stricter gun laws.
Murders of intimate partners and family members, mainly women and children, make up most of the gun deaths by mass shooting in the United States. And domestic violence foreshadows nearly one-quarter of all mass murders, including those where no family member was killed. In addition to manifesting other clear signs of violent behavior and a fascination with guns, the suspect in the latest school mass shooting in Florida is reported to have abused his girlfriend.
According to a 2017 study released by the research and advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, between 2009 and 2016, 54 percent of mass shootings (defined as four or more killed, not counting the shooter) included intimate partners and family members among the victims. More than 40 percent of the victims were children.
Additionally, of the 156 mass shootings evaluated by Everytown, 36 of them, or 23 percent, involved a shooter with a reported history of domestic abuse. This tally includes instances where an intimate partner or family member called authorities, and also when victims told friends or family members about abuse, reported threats or applied for a protective order, even if no charges were filed or were eventually dropped. It’s possible the true figure might be even higher, for all too often, domestic violence remains hidden and unreported.
Still, it’s clear, says Sarah Tofte, research director at Everytown for Gun Safety, that “if we want to reduce mass shootings in this country, we’re really going to have to address the connection between domestic violence and firearms.”
Those who have been convicted of a domestic violence offense, including misdemeanors, or are subject to a longterm domestic violence protective order are prohibited by federal law from purchasing or owning a gun. This prohibition has been in place since 1996, when the Feminist Majority and National Network to End Domestic Violence worked successfully with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to pass what is known as the Lautenberg Amendment.
In the years since Lautenberg, incidents of intimate partner homicide have gone down dramatically. Between 1993 and 2007, the number of murder victims killed by intimate partners declined by 29 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In her 2014 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor of nursing at Johns Hopkins University who has extensively studied intimate partner violence, attributed this reduction to gun regulations.
“Domestic violence homicides have gone down. But clearly from the data they have gone down, in part, in great part, because of the gun restrictions that were put on known domestic violence offenders,” she told the committee.
A Michigan State University longitudinal study released last November showed that states requiring those under a domestic violence restraining order to give up their guns led to a 22 percent reduction in intimate partner murders committed using firearms over the 34-year period evaluated by the researchers.
In August 2016, in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania Mark Short murdered his wife Megan and their three children before killing himself. Just weeks prior to the shooting, Megan had called the police, telling them she feared that Short would harm her. She’d been trying to leave him.
Then, it was too late.
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