Members Only | May 28, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Most shooting massacres are domestic violence incidents occurring in the home and out of sight

Seventy-five percent of shooters buy guns legally, says Mia Brett.

Most shooting massacres are domestic violence incidents occurring in the home and out of sight

Share this article

As our country continues to open up, mass shootings are making the news again. On March 16, a man went on a shooting spree against Asian women, killing eight people in Atlanta. On March 22, a man killed 10 people in a grocery store parking lot in Boulder, Colo. On April 15, a man killed nine in a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. On May 9, a man opened fire at a birthday party, killing seven in Colorado Springs. This week, on May 26, a man killed 10 people at a San Jose, Calif., transit center.

And these are the stories that made the news. According to the Gun Violence Archive, which includes gun incidents in which no one dies in their definition of a mass shooting, there have been 232 mass shootings and 15 mass murders since January 1.

What may surprise people is that while we heard about mass shootings less during the covid pandemic, it was actually the deadliest gun-violence year in decades. There were 610 mass shootings and 21 mass murders last year. So why didn’t we hear them? Because most mass shootings are domestic violence incidents occurring in the home.

Improving our societal response to domestic violence has the potential to drastically lower gun deaths and limit the number of mass shooters, writes Editorial Board member Mia Brett.

According to one study that defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot and killed, excluding the shooter, 61 percent between 2009-2018 occurred entirely in the home. Another 10 percent occurred in a home and in public. The majority of children and teens who die as a result of mass shootings don’t die in school; 72 percent died in a mass shooting involving domestic violence. At least 54 percent of mass shootings included at least one intimate partner or family member as a victim. The connection between mass shootings and domestic violence gets stronger when you include men who have histories of domestic violence and become mass shooters. An analysis of 749 mass shootings between 2014 and 2019 found almost 60 percent of mass shooters either were committing domestic violence or had a history of domestic violence before the mass shooting. An ex-girlfriend of the San Jose shooter who killed 10 people this week accused him of rape and intimate partner violence. 

While I could not find a statistic on the percentage of gun deaths each year that are domestic violence related, we do know that a gun in the home makes it five times more likely a domestic violence situation will be deadly and domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 12 times more likely to result in death than assaults with other weapons or bodily force. Women in the United States are 21 times more likely to be killed by a gun than in other high-income countries and nearly half of all women homicide victims are killed as a result of intimate partner violence. 

While domestic violence is a deadly threat to women in a country with so much access to firearms, it is mostly discussed in relation to mass shootings when the shooter also kills people outside the home. Much of the increase in gun deaths in 2020 is a result of domestic violence and people being stuck in the home. However, without the spectacle of the public mass shooting the media mostly ignored gun deaths last year. The narrative about returning to normalcy has also included concern about returning to mass shootings, ignoring the prevalence of domestic violence shootings last year. 

In 1997, Congress passed a law, often called “the Lautenberg Amendment,” prohibiting anyone convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm. Unfortunately, loopholes allow a domestic abuser to legally purchase guns. One issue with the law is that it only applies if the abuser has been married, lived with, or had children with his victim. Therefore, those convicted of assaulting a dating partner or a stalking victim can still pass a background check and legally purchase a gun. This has been dubbed “the boyfriend loophole.” As of 2018, only 27 states have passed laws to address it. 

Many abusers can legally purchase firearms, because their convictions are never entered into the federal database. This must be done manually. State databases don’t automatically populate the federal one. This oversight led to the killing of 26 people in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church in 2017. The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, was convicted of domestic abuse in 2012 while in the Air Force. He should have been barred from legally purchasing guns in 2017 but the Air Force said his convictions had not been entered into the National Criminal Information Center database.

There are also gun sales when a background check isn’t required. Private sellers are allowed to sell guns without running background checks. This is particularly common at gun shows. If the background check system doesn’t immediately make a determination, and three days pass without the FBI continuing to investigate, the gun can be sold in what is called a “default proceed” sale. This is also referred to as the “Charleston loophole” after the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting.

Improving our societal response to domestic violence and improving our societal commitment to keeping guns away from domestic abusers has the potential to drastically lower gun deaths in this country and limit the number of mass shooters.

Seventy-five percent of mass shooters use a legally purchased gun and, as previously said, 60 percent of mass shooters have a history of domestic violence. Everytown for Gun Safety argues we must strengthen state laws prohibiting domestic abusers from owning guns, improve implementation and enforcement of existing laws, closing the previously mentioned loopholes, improving domestic violence records, requiring gun dealers to notify law enforcement when a convicted abuser attempts to buy a gun, and funding research on domestic violence and gun violence.

I argue we must do all that but we also must take domestic violence as a societal problem more seriously at the first warning sign to ensure domestic abusers get a conviction and are guaranteed to fail a background check.

Mia Brett

Mia Brett, PhD, is a legal historian who writes about the construction of race and gender in American history. She lives with her dog Tchotchke. You can find her tweeting @queenmab87.

Published in cooperation with Alternet. 

Mia Brett, PhD, is the Editorial Board's legal historian. She lives with her gorgeous dog, Tchotchke. You can find her @queenmab87.

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.