Columns, Opinion

Modern Musings: It’s time to acknowledge the connection between domestic and gun violence

It happened again. Last Friday, yet another mass shooting occurred — this time in Aurora, Illinois. The shooter, Gary Martin, took the lives of five people at the warehouse he worked at just minutes after being fired. He was killed by police during the shootout.

The shooting comes as no surprise to a country that has yet to really confront the issue of gun violence. This was already the 39th mass shooting — where four or more people are shot or killed in a single event excluding the shooter — of 2019 in the United States, out of 43 days.

But Martin had something in common with perpetrators of other mass shootings that cannot be ignored: a history of domestic violence.

The shooter was known to be abusive to his girlfriend — he would kick and beat her frequently, and once hit her with a baseball bat and stabbed her with a knife. In addition to the felony conviction he received for the abuse, he was arrested six other times in other incidents.

Despite spending a few years in jail, after his release, he was able to buy a gun. Federal law prevents felons from purchasing or owning guns, but various loopholes and certain amendments allow felons to request “relief” from those restrictions, which is how guns continue to fall into the hands of convicted domestic abusers.

Martin even had his gun license revoked five years ago after his felony conviction came up in a background check, but somehow he was still able to get the gun he killed victims with on Friday.

Mass shootings are often perpetrated by those with a history of domestic violence. The Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was reported to police several times for domestic disturbances, including physically assaulting his mother.

The Pulse nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, beat his wife. The Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, frequently verbally harassed his girlfriend in Starbucks. In 54 percent of the mass shootings that occurred between 2009 to 2016, shooters killed their partners or family members, according to Everytown for Gun Safety’s website.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to suggest domestic violence plays a role in mass shootings, people have yet to acknowledge it as a major issue in the gun control debate.

None of the aforementioned men were ever convicted of domestic violence, and they were able to freely buy the guns they committed mass murder with. And although federal law prevents domestic abusers from buying or owning guns, many are still able to get their hands on guns in a variety of ways with ease.

Firstly, only 37 states have laws in place that have laws that require law enforcement to remove guns from individuals prohibited from owning firearms. Then there is the issue of what qualifies as domestic abuse.

If a person is convicted of assault rather than domestic abuse, which often happens if the abuser and the victim aren’t married, don’t live together or don’t have children, the abuser’s gun rights are protected. While countless mass shootings could’ve been stopped if stronger gun laws were in place — and the current laws were properly enforced — the fact of the matter is that domestic violence would still have occurred.

Especially in the cases of Cruz, Mateen and Paddock, who were never convicted of domestic violence but whose abusive behavior was well known to others, gun control laws would not have prevented them from obtaining guns.

So in addition to addressing the circumstances that enabled more violence and bloodshed, we must also address the root of the problem: a culture where abusers face few consequences and victims’ cries for help are too often ignored.  

In the national gun control debate that inevitably rears its head after any mass shooting, any discussion about a shooter’s history of domestic violence gets drowned out by the cacophony of calls for stronger gun control or protection of second amendment rights.

Sometimes there is speculation of mental illness and discussion about raising greater awareness for it, but rarely does the gunman’s past violent and oftentimes misogynistic behavior gain similar attention in the larger debate.

While it’s crucial to pass stronger gun control laws that would prevent anyone convicted of domestic violence from obtaining or buying a gun, people must also realize the correlation between domestic violence and gun violence.

In all the aforementioned instances, the shooters exhibited dangerous, abusive behavior before murdering several people, but other people either failed to tell anyone about it or law enforcement failed to act upon reports of it.

We must do a better job of raising awareness for any domestic violence that is occurring and ensuring that victims will be protected and their voices will be heard. While ending domestic violence won’t end mass shootings in this country, it will certainly reduce the amount of bloodshed our country is witness to on a regular basis.

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