Valentina Meo is a third year in History and International relations that loves to travel, read, and debate in Model United Nations.

[Featured Image: A woman dressed in jeans and a tie-dye t-shirt, holding up a white sign with red writing saying “Enough is Enough”. In the background a group of people consisting mainly of women and young girls are assembling. The picture is taken during a gun-violence walk out 20 years after the Columbine Mass Shooting.]

By this point, I should have a better response when someone tells me about another mass shooting in America. I should have a reply that encapsulates both my sympathy and outrage at the news, practiced and perfected after previous shootings. And yet, each time, my reaction always seems to exist in this paradox where saying anything is not enough to quell the anger and loss of those who died but saying nothing is too much. Saying nothing would force me to admit that gun violence is not shocking anymore, it’s not unexpected, it’s an inevitability for many US citizens. 

After all, there were 12 mass shootings in 2018, and 11 in 2017. 

The latest back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio at the beginning of August 2019 had the potential to change the growing apathy many Americans were starting to feel towards gun violence. As it happened after both Sandy Hook and the Parkland massacres, American news outlets were quick to try and identify the causes of this latest tragedy. Mental illness and video games are the go-to from the gun-loving right, while democrats and democratic candidates blamed Trump’s white supremacist rhetoric and the NRA. Few mentioned a third and yet important aspect that’s largely missing from the national conversation around gun violence: mass shooters often have a history of violence against women. 

94% of mass shootings between 2009 and 2017 were committed by men, in addition to the 900 women murdered by their current or former partner with a gun each year. Research conducted by Moms Demand Action found that over half the victims of mass shootings between 2009 and 2017 were not random, but targeted by the shooter. While for many people it is a case of wrong place at the wrong time, many shooters were drawn to a specific place at a specific time, and it’s often to target women or other family members as is the case in the Dayton shooting. Derin Kelley, for instance, who shot 25 people in a church in Sutherland Springs was targeting the family of his second wife and was convicted of domestic violence against his first wife and infant stepson. 

Undoubtedly, mass shooters have a long history of violence–16% of mass shooters have a previous domestic violence conviction and exploring this connection might give more insight into answering questions regarding their motivations beyond just mental illness. Domestic violence, like mass shootings, are rooted in the need for control. Many mass shooters felt a sense of  “entitlement, the envy of others, [and] feeling that they deserve something that the world is not giving them” says Amy Barnhorst, a psychologist from UC Davis. Needing a feeling of control–whether over women or a sense of a ‘disappearing white identity’ due to immigration links both white supremacist ideology and the gender disparity amongst mass shooters. Interestingly, the first mass shooting in the United States in 1991 at the University of Texas began with domestic violence: the shooter murdered his wife and mother the night before. Feelings of resentment towards women are common, and online forums such as 8chan allow like-minded men to communicate and spread their anti-women rhetoric to a receptive audience.

An example is Elliot O. Rodger, who killed 6 people in 2014 after posting a video online where he stated his desire to punish women for not wanting to sleep with him. In this video he claimed that he was “the true victim in all of this, [he’s] the good guy”. His video pushed two other men to enact their own mass shootings citing his story, both with similar grievances against women, and saw violence as a way to enact their ‘punishment’. 

Elliot Rodger’s not the only one to use violence against women.

Jarrod Ramos, who murdered 5 journalists in Maryland after the Capital Gazette reported on his harassment of a coworker, had a pattern of violent behavior against women. 

Robert Lewis Dear killed three people at a Planned Parenthood in 2015 was accused of domestic violence by two ex-wives.

Omar Moiteen, who massacred 49 people in a homophobic-driven shooting at a Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida was charged with assaulting his wife while she was pregnant. 

Nikolas Cruz, responsible for the 17 people killed at the Parkland school shooting was abusive towards his ex-girlfriend, in addition to participating in white supremacy groups. 

Cedric Ford shot 17 people at his Kansas workplace right after he was served a restraining order by his ex-girlfriend on the ground of domestic abuse. 

This isn’t to say that white nationalism and white supremacy, the NRA’s continued influence in US politics, and anti-immigrant sentiment voiced by Trump and parroted by his supporters isn’t to blame for mass shootings. But we can discuss all of that while also mentioning the misogynistic origins of these aggressive impulses and use domestic violence histories to try and predict these tragedies before they occur. All gun control initiatives should include background checks that prevent men who commit domestic violence from owning guns legally. Due to NRA opposition, this is currently only illegal in 16 states. We should close the Boyfriend Loophole, which allows unmarried, childless men with domestic violence convictions to continue to own guns despite exhibiting aggressive behavior. 

Preventing gun violence is not just about ending mass shootings, it’s about helping lower the percentage of women killed by an intimate partner, which occurs in the United States at a higher rate than the rest of the Western world. Mass shootings are a reminder that we should start regulating gun sale and ownership to those who are capable of handling a weapon, and we should take specific attention towards their relationship with women and past instances of violence to determine if someone is mentally capable.


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