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Domestic Violence and Mass Shootings

In the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, the focus has turned to what motivated the shooter to commit this heinous hate crime. Some sources claim that he pledged allegiance to ISIS during the shooting, while others claim that he was gay himself, and desperate to hide his sexuality while simultaneously lashing out at those who he believe rejected him. Amidst all of this speculation, an important component of his background has largely been overlooked: his significant history of domestic violence. While it appears that the Orlando shooting was ultimately about hatred for the LGBTQ community, the shooter’s history of violence against women must be viewed as a warning sign of a potential for further violence.

Like so many other mass shooters before him, the man who perpetrated the attacks in Orlando has a history of abusing women, including his first wife. This is a common feature in mass shootings in the United States: violence against female partners often escalates to violence against others. An analysis of all mass shootings (involving four or more casualties) in 2015 revealed that 31% of the killings — almost 1/3 — involved domestic violence incidents. Even in cases where domestic violence isn’t specifically involved, anger at women or a past history of abusive behavior towards women often plays a role in mass shootings. This includes the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed; the shooter had been disciplined for stalking two women and left a note describing his anger at women (among other topics). The 2009 LA Fitness shooting in suburban Pittsburgh was sparked by the shooter’s anger at being rejected by women. The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter also had a history of domestic violence and disturbing behavior towards women, as did the man who killed three of his co-workers in Kansas in February 2016.

It’s clear that a change is needed. We need to take domestic violence more seriously, and take steps to ensure that those who abuse their partners cannot purchase firearms. We also need to transform our society, so that the type of abuse so often perpetrated by mass shooters — stalking, harassment, intimidation and more — is no longer accepted as part of our culture, or a sign that a man is just really interested in a woman. One way to start is through engaging men in our goal of ending violence. Our Men As Allies group offers a concrete way to get involved and make a real difference in our community. Click below to learn more —and to be part of the solution!

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