What do mass shootings and domestic violence have in common? A lot, actually.
As research shows, there’s often a link between mass shootings and domestic abuse or highly misogynistic behaviour. For the purposes of tracking crime data, the FBI defines a “mass shooting” as any incident in which at least four people are murdered with a gun. It’s all too common after a mass shooting for evidence to emerge that shows the perpetrator, who is almost always male, was abusive to a spouse, former spouse or other women.
Sometimes, mass shootings are also domestic violence incidents. In Canada, police called the shooting deaths of six adults and two children in Edmonton in December 2014, "an extreme case of domestic violence gone awry" and the city's worst mass murder since 1956. A 2013 study by Mayors Against Illegal Guns in the U.S. found that domestic or family violence was a factor closely connected to 57 percent of mass shootings, in that the shooter killed a current or former spouse or intimate partner or other family member. A significant number of the shooters had a prior domestic violence charge.
The Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative shows that domestic homicide is an all too common problem in our country. There’s a serious risk of death for many women who are being abused by their partners, particularly when they’re trying to leave the relationship. Domestic homicides in Canada represent 17% of all solved homicides in Canada and almost half (47%) of family murders.
This violence can also enter the workplace and becomes a threat to those outside of the relationship. This was the case in the recent death of Elaine Smith, a teacher in a special needs classroom and a child she was teaching in California, as well as the murder of Vancouver, Starbucks manager Tony McNaughton in 2000 when he intervened to help an employee being attacked by her husband. Even if others are not injured or killed when domestic violence spills over to the workplace, they can be seriously traumatized as in the 2013 murder-suicide in a Quebec daycare.
And sometimes domestic violence is a warning sign and a risk factor for violence to escalate beyond the home. For instance, Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016, physically abused his former wife on a regular basis before he committed his atrocity. Seungh Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, was accused of harassing women at the university two years prior. And Marc Lepine, who gunned down 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, grew up with an abusive father and was full of hatred for women himself, particularly career women and those in traditionally male occupations such as engineering. His rationale for the deadliest shooting in Canadian history was his claim that he was “fighting feminists.” We now know this hatred and violence was something he had been taught and inherited from his father.
In the most recent shooting in Las, Vegas we are seeing the same link. The shooter, Stephen Paddock, was known to regularly demean and verbally abuse his girlfriend in front of others.
Obviously not every man committing domestic abuse will commit a shooting crime, but we ignore the correlation between mass shooters and their history with domestic violence at our peril.
Mass shootings have, tragically, become all too commonplace in society, particularly in the United States. It seems like every time we turn on the news, there is a new shooting. In fact, on average, there is a mass shooting every nine out of ten days in the country. When these crimes are committed by lone white men, as is often the case, they tend to be labelled as “lone wolves” or “psychologically impaired.” But we need to be looking more closely at their history. Did they grow up in abusive households? Were they abusive to their partner? Once we can acknowledge the strong connection between these perpetrators and domestic abuse, then perhaps we can help prevent some of these tragedies. After the recent shooting in Las Vegas, many Starbucks employees came forward to admit they had witnessed, on numerous occasions, Paddock being verbally abusive to his girlfriend in public. What did others know about his relationship with his girlfriend? Were there opportunities to intervene to address his abusive behaviour? Could that have changed the course of his ultimate act of violence? These are questions that we will never know the answer to – but they are important questions to reflect upon in this case, and in others.
If you see something, if you hear something, or if you know something, please take steps to address domestic violence. See our resources on How to talk to men who are abusive and How you can identify and help women at risk. The power of regret is strong and you may help save a life, or in this case, many lives.
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