The issue of gun violence in America is insurmountable. Following the mass shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February of this year, acts of violence and their public protests have dominated the news cycle. To many, it may seem like mass shootings in America are increasing with alarming frequency. This notion is largely accurate. Of the 30 deadliest mass shootings in United States history since 1949, 18 of them have occurred in the last 10 years. Beyond the mass shootings that garner the public’s attention, gun violence in its more underreported forms casts a long shadow over the lives of millions of Americans. In fact, every day 96 Americans are killed by guns, and hundreds more are injured.

Few topics in American politics are as hotly debated as gun violence. While most people acknowledge it is a serious problem plaguing society, there are differing opinions on how to best combat the issue. The solution to gun violence is likely as complex as the issue itself, and there is no clear-cut method of putting an end to the carnage. Nevertheless, one facet contributing to the devastation of the gun violence epidemic is simultaneously glaringly apparent yet often overlooked: its strong connection to gender-based violence.

In the confusing and painful aftermaths of our nation’s numerous mass shootings, the most sought-after information is often the perpetrator’s identity. Many of these shooters appear to have little in common, and their motives typically remain unknown. However, the common thread of domestic violence often strings this group together. In 54 percent of mass shootings, defined as an incident in which four or more people are killed, the perpetrator killed a partner or family member.

Violence against women is a strong predictor of mass gun violence. Before he opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Nikolas Cruz was accused of abuse by an ex-girlfriend and of stalking by a female classmate. Devin Patrick Kelley, who killed 26 in a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas, would not have been able to purchase a firearm if his domestic violence court-martial had been properly reported. Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen allegedly beat his ex-wife and held her hostage before they eventually divorced. Though not an intimate partner, Adam Lanza was motivated by anger toward his mother, whom he also killed, in his massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Choi, Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock and congressional baseball shooter James T. Hodgkinson all had a history of violence or hatred toward women before their respective rampages. Recently, Juan Lopez shot and killed his ex-fiancé Tamara O’Neal and two others before turning the gun on himself at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago.

A history of domestic violence is a troubling yet clear trend among the nation’s high-profile mass shooters. The connection between violence against women and gun violence extends far past the shootings that capture the attention of the news cycle, though. In the United States, women are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed than women in other developed nations. If a gun is available to the perpetrator within a domestic violence situation, the victim is five times more likely to be killed. In the average month in the United States, about 50 women are shot and killed due to domestic violence, while many more are injured. Around 1 million American women alive today have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner, while 4.5 million have been threatened with gun violence.

Current gun laws are supposed to prevent those with a history of domestic violence from purchasing firearms. One in seven unlawful gun buyers deterred from purchasing by a federal background check is denied because of past domestic abuse. Since it began in 1998, the federal criminal background check system has blocked 300,000 domestic abusers from buying guns. However, in far too many cases victims are left woefully unprotected from their abusers by federal laws. For example, federal background checks are only mandated for sales at licensed dealers. This means that abusers can still purchase guns by attending gun shows or from unlicensed sellers they find on the internet. Furthermore, most gun laws only prevent those with past convictions of abuse from purchasing guns. Many domestic abusers who already own guns are not required to dispose of them. Only 15 states currently require abusers with restraining orders to turn in their guns.  

Gun violence in the United States is incredibly destructive. With each new mass shooting, Americans are reminded of the peril that millions in the nation live with daily. Beyond those impacted directly, the ripple effects of gun violence impact everybody. The profound psychological effects of living in fear of being shot combined with the immense financial costs of repeated shootings from medical care and the criminal justice system have made it impossible to ignore the gun violence epidemic. The manner by which the epidemic impacts women is especially harsh. The relationship between gender-based violence and gun violence is apparent, and it is costing many lives. Keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers would prevent countless instances of gun violence. States that prevent individuals with domestic violence restraining orders from purchasing guns and also require them to relinquish their firearms see a 10-percent lower rate of intimate partner homicide overall as well as a 14-percent lower rate of intimate partner gun homicide. Keeping women safe from gun violence is in the best interest of society as a whole, preventing dangerous weapons from falling into the possession of dangerous individuals.

Alanna Berger can be reached at balanna@umich.edu.

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