An Intimate Connection: Gun Violence and Domestic Violence

Published: Jul 1, 2016 | Author: Katherine Ziomek, BWJP

The Orlando shooting has brought the issue of gun control and gun rights to the forefront of American politics. As public outrage over yet another mass shooting runs high, media outlets have turned their focus to the killer’s motivations, his history. Just as in any other mass shooting or act of public, fatal violence, the same questions arise: Were there any warning signs? Was he mentally unstable? How did he acquire a firearm? However, when the investigation into the perpetrator’s history begins, a disturbing trend emerges that some may not expect: many have a history of domestic abuse.

The connection between domestic violence and high-profile shootings is stronger than most realize. For one, a number of mass shooters have histories of domestic violence and abuse. Violence against women and families, according to a Washington state study , “is the single greatest predictor of future violent crime among men.”

If someone has demonstrated past violent behavior, it’s probably the best indicator we have of the risk of being violent in the future ,” said Shannon Frattaroli, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who studies the connection between gun violence and domestic violence. A brief look at the perpetrators of some of the deadliest shootings in the U.S. speaks to this finding: Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, physically and emotionally abused his ex-wife, severely beating her and isolating her from her family. Robert Lewis Dear, who opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado in 2015, had previously been accused of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking by three different women, including his then-wife. John Houser, who fatally shot two women and injured nine others in a movie theater in Louisiana in 2015, was subject to a protection order, which his wife and daughter had filed against him in 2008 after repeated threats and “acts of family violence.” Before Houser, there was George Jo Hennard, who stalked two sisters and their mother in a Texas neighborhood four months before fatally shooting twenty-three people in a restaurant in 1991, James Plough, who had been served with a temporary injunction by his wife – who accused him of twice putting a shotgun to her head – six months before killing nine and wounding four in an office in Florida in 1990, and James Huberty, whose wife had reported him to law enforcement after an act of domestic violence long before he killed twenty-one people at a McDonald’s in 1984.

“Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first. Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men’s later actions,” wrote Pamela Shifman executive director of the NoVo Foundation, and Salamishah Tillet, associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of A Long Walk Home, in an op-ed piece for the New York Times in February. The home, however, is far more than just a “training ground” for men who commit violence – it is the predominant scene of mass shootings.

While most think of high-profile, public shootings when considering mass shootings, the FBI definition of “mass shooting”- an incident in which four or more people are killed by a firearm – is much broader. Most mass shootings occurring in the home, against a current or former intimate partner or a family member. However, given the small scale and private nature of these incidents, they rarely receive the national attention that public mass shootings receive.

Certainly, not all domestic violence perpetrators will become mass shooters, and not all mass shooters have a history of domestic violence. However, the histories of many mass shooters speak to a disquieting connection between domestic violence and fatal gun violence, whether it ultimately occurs in public, on a crowded dance-floor, or in the privacy of one’s own home.

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