On Feb. 14, much of the world celebrated Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday: holidays that honor love and peace. In the U.S., we mourned the deaths of 17 high school students and faculty who were brutally murdered in the 30th mass shooting this year. Of course, a school shooting that resulted in 17 deaths is much different than other mass shootings, some of which resulted in no fatalities. But in no way was this unprecedented — only five months ago, a shooting in Las Vegas resulted in the highest death toll from a mass shooting yet.
(An aside: Mass shootings are a uniquely American phenomenon. Thirty-one percent of mass shootings in the world happen here, and yet we continue to respond by calling for more guns. Our Congress continues to respond by not responding. We — ignorantly — call it a mental health problem, then cut mental health funding. Don’t forget that this is insane).
The shooter in Parkland, Fla., was 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. Cruz had a history of abusive and misogynistic behavior toward women. His teacher reported that he was stalking a female peer, his ex-girlfriend broke up with him because of his violent and abusive behavior and he was ultimately expelled for getting into a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Why do I find this so significant? Because 54 percent of mass shootings have roots in domestic violence. Because the Orlando shooter who murdered 49 people June 12, 2016 physically abused his wife. Because the Texas shooter who murdered people in their place of worship on Nov. 5 horrifically assaulted his ex-wife, who says she lived in “constant fear” of him. Because the Las Vegas shooter who killed 58 people Oct. 1 acted abusively toward his girlfriend as well. There is a significant and obvious link between abuse of women and mass shootings, but we ignore this and blame it on mental illness.
Mental illness is not the cause of abusive, possessive and criminal behavior toward women. Stop stigmatizing non-violent Americans and recognize that the problem is a pervasive misogynistic culture that normalizes violence against women. Toxic masculinity and guns are a lethal combination, and it is one I am so tired of trying to convince people to recognize. I’m tired of searching every mass shooter’s name and finding exactly what I’m looking for: a history of abuse toward women. I’m so, so tired of remembering how little this country cares about the welfare and safety of its women, despite its constant attempts to downplay our agency.
It is illegal for convicted abusers to buy guns in this country. They do, though, as we see too often when it results in abusive husbands killing their wives, their kids and their community members. How? When an abuser is convicted, only 15 states actually require they turn in their guns. In 35 states, a domestic abuser can be proven to be a violent person, legally recognized as an abuser and continue to have a house full of firearms. The Texas shooter was a convicted domestic abuser, but the U.S. Air Force failed to report his conviction to the FBI. So, he was able to buy a gun that he used to commit mass murder. In all but 19 states, it wouldn’t have even mattered if the FBI was aware, because only 19 states require a full background check when buying a gun online or in a gun show.
We are allowing innocent people to be in the presence of armed violent criminals every day. Women are leaving abusive relationships, bravely take the steps to report the abuse, and our laws are failing them horribly. Our laws are failing all of us horribly, because not only are the women, children and family members linked to these men at risk, but all of us are. We are all threatened by the reality of violent individuals possessing weapons of murder.
Beyond mass shootings, American women are killed every day by guns in an epidemic that lawmakers ignore. Every month, about 50 American women are fatally shot by an intimate partner. Silently, women are being gunned down in their homes and in their workplaces — the places they feel safest. Some suggest women should arm themselves, just as they suggest teachers should be armed, grocery shoppers should be armed, and so on. Americans really like the idea that further militarizing our society will somehow bring us peace. It won’t, but unfortunately the National Rifle Association will always be more sacred than our lives. Anyway, when women do arm themselves, they increase the potential of being murdered by more than 50 percent.
The statistics are dark and disheartening. The cycle of mass shootings, the prevalence of gun deaths each day, the power of lobbying groups, the apathy of those in power, it all feels as though we are powerless in the fight for our lives. There are solutions though: solutions that work in other countries and solutions that have worked in our own country. In states that simply require background checks on all gun purchases, including online and at gun shows, 47 percent fewer women are fatally shot by intimate partners.
Treating domestic abuse like a private family matter is unacceptable. It is unacceptable because it puts victims in danger and leaves them living in fear. This has historically not been reason enough to act, though. So, ignoring the serious criminality of domestic abuse also puts all Americans in danger. We claim to want guns out of the hands of violent individuals, so let’s start here. Let’s enforce the laws we already have on the table, enact comprehensive background checks for all purchases and require that all weapons are taken from convicted domestic abusers — in every state. Let’s treat domestic abuse like the pervasive and criminal problem that it is, not a personal matter to be left up to personal mediation.
Let’s protect and empower women.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” ― Margaret Atwood
Margot Libertini can be reached at email@example.com.