According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 384 mass shootings in the United States in 2016. That number only includes shootings where 4 or more people were attacked. MORE THAN ONE PER DAY. The shooters were Christians, Muslims, Atheists, White, Asian, Indian, wealthy, poor, drug-addicted, sober, well-educated, illiterate…
Many mass shooters share a common thread. It is not ideology, religious affiliation, or history of drug use. Everytown For Gun Safety analyzed F.B.I data from 2009-2015, and their analysis found that over 57% of incidents of mass violence included a spouse, partner, significant other or family member as one of the victims. In 16% of cases, shooters had a history of domestic violence charges. However, it is relevant to note that domestic violence remains a hugely under-reported, under-charged and under-prosecuted crime.
Last week’s shooting at the Republican congressional baseball practice injured five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). Scalise and a former congressional staffer were both critically wounded in the attack.
A Common Thread
The shooter in week’s attack was James Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old man from Illinois. There are plenty theories to explain why he committed this horrific crime, mostly regarding Hodgkinson’s political beliefs. While that is certainly relevant regarding his choice of victims, his personal history is much more telling. Hodgkinson has a history of domestic violence. He joins a long list of mass shooters who’s history includes violence against their families.
In April of this year, Cedric Anderson walked into the special needs class in San Bernardino, CA, where his wife was working. Without saying a word, he shot and killed her, and turned the gun on himself but not before shooting and killing an 8-year-old student and injuring a 9-year-old.
Esteban Santiago reportedly attempted to strangle his girlfriend before killing five people at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Omar Mateen, the Pulse Night Club shooter, also had a history of domestic violence. Cedric Ford shot 17 people at his job only an hour and a half after being served a restraining order from his former girlfriend who asserts experiencing abuse from Ford in the past. Robert Lewis Dear, who killed three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, was accused of abuse by two of his three ex-wives. Dear was also arrested for rape in 1992.
Domestic violence is a crime of power and control. Abusers do not attack out of anger, because of alcohol, or because of a lack of self-control. Abusers attack in an effort to assert power and control over them. Similarly, mass shooters wish to assert power and control and they use violence to accomplish that.
Why it Matters
This list is certainly not exhaustive. It only includes a handful of mass shooters from the United States. But the pattern is not unique to the United States. Domestic violence is a common thread that ties mass violence together, across ideological, racial, religious and geographical lines.
Domestic violence remains a largely minimized and closeted crime in our society. It is approached as a private matter, even when police are involved. Most victims hide the details because of shame and many even protect their abusers. And history shows that abuse follows two very consistent patterns. The first is escalation and the second is cyclical, meaning that most abusers were abused. Knowing these patterns suggests there is hope that early identification and intervention could help to stop these crimes.
While not all perpetrators of domestic violence go on to become mass killers, we cannot ignore the link between family violence and mass violence.