Not If, But How– The Connection Between Domestic Violence and Mass Shootings

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Once again, we are working through sadness and grief over the most recent mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  We hope the people of Sutherland Springs get the support and love they need to heal from this tragedy and the resulting trauma now and years into the future. We also hope this community and communities across the country respond with action to prevent violence like this from happening in the future.

For many of us doing domestic violence response work, the question we ask after incidents of mass shooting like these is never ”if” family violence was involved, but “how?”

Is it that the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence, other charges of violence against women, and escalating behavior like James Hodgkinson, Robert Dear, or Omar Mateen (responsible for the congressional baseball, Planned Parenthood, and Pulse Nightclub shootings, respectively)?  Was it that the perpetrator was a victim of family violence or child abuse years ago that went unreported? Or, as is the case in Sutherland Springs, is it that the incident started with domestic violence that expanded to the larger community?

As news once again surfaces of this shooter’s verbal or psychological aggression, we must remember that these behavioral warning signs are not to be dismissed or taken likely. Responding quickly and effectively to people who commit domestic violence, including emotional abuse, is an effective strategy to prevent tragedies like this from happening.

While mass shootings that receive lots of media attention are those with high body counts, mass shootings are defined as 4 or more victims. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 57 % of mass shootings incidences involved a current of former partner or spouse among the victims.

Historically, domestic violence has been treated as a “family” issue–something that takes place behind closed doors to be dealt with quietly at home.  Instances like this, however, are an unfortunate reminder of how much domestic violence remains a community issue–one that we all have the responsibility to respond to in ways that create safety for survivors and their children, but ultimately our larger community as well.

Believing women and their children’s experiences of violence and holding perpetrators accountable for that violence is one of the most proactive steps we can take to keep our communities safe.

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