After Dayton, Ohio; Gilroy, California; and El Paso, Texas—recent tragedies that received significant national attention—I waited for the sluggish response of our politicians, for the sterile murmur of thoughts and prayers, and for the confirmation of misogyny. The media and politicians cried out about mental illness, background checks, and America’s love for guns; but the role of domestic violence leading up to these mass atrocities receives little attention in comparison. The inclination to kill dozens of people often begins with hatred toward women.
Thus, it’s not surprising that a large majority of the perpetrators of these mass shootings have a history of domestic violence against women. According to Fortune magazine, the majority of mass shooters in the U.S. killed their intimate partners; furthermore, nearly half of American women killed are murdered by their intimate partners. A Colorado man who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic was accused by two ex-wives of domestic violence. The 21-year-old shooter who murdered 17 people in Parkland, abused his girlfriend. Before killing 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the shooter shot his mother four times.
We are witnessing a fundamental difference in how we deal with our anger, which manifests itself both in domestic violence and in mass shootings. This problem is a gendered one; as Jennifer Wright writes in Harper’s Bazaar, “Women lose jobs. Women feel neglected by their loved ones. Women are romantically rejected. Women, as a rule, do not respond by shooting up schools or workplaces.” Further, the contrast of women who are abused by shooters as compared to those who are mass shooters is astounding. Statista reports that only three mass shootings since 1982 have been carried out by women. That’s less than one per decade.
We need to take notice of the fact that we are enabling men to express their anger in unhealthy ways mired in attraction to violence and guns. Sixty percent of gun owners are male, according to the Pew Research Center, yet women are more likely than men to cite protection rather than recreation for why they own a gun. Even in light of a pressing need for gun reform, a woman’s need for a gun is sad—but perhaps more comprehensible. Fortune magazine stated American women are 16 times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other developed nations, and domestic violence is the most common killer of women worldwide. As Writer Ashley Fetters notes in “Why Women Own Guns,” published in GQ, “For all the strides we’ve made toward equality, there’s still a more violent sex.”
Mass atrocity is the ultimate escalation of domestic violence. These crimes of misogyny and abuse are far too pernicious to ignore. Yet, while feminist magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Mother Jones have made the role of male power and domestic violence a clear priority, the political mainstream has provided insufficient coverage of domestic violence’s hand in mass shootings. But viewing these mass shootings through the lens of power and gender is no longer a “feminist problem.” It has now become a public problem—and a violent one.
This crisis, this onslaught of mass atrocities, is no longer simply about the sheer accessibility of guns. And it is not only about America’s mental health, because mental illness shows up in every race and demographic; in fact, women are more susceptible to anxiety and depression. Mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators, and while one in five American adults struggle with mental health, only a fraction of those people commit domestic terrorism.
The relationship between domestic violence and mass shootings is irrefutable. When we choose to make ending domestic violence a priority, it will make us safer. Those with a history of domestic violence shouldn’t have the right to own a gun. We need to stop ignoring crucial red flags concerning misogyny and abuse. Generally, liberals advocate for gun control and conservatives ask for better mental health care; however, we must acknowledge that a significant factor behind mass shootings is domestic violence. I have thoughts and prayers, too—for a nation that will someday recognize how hatred toward women fuels our collective demise.
Accompanying photo: “Remembrance” by Lola Farrell.
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