Where there’s a will there’s a way

Like so many recent episodes of gun violence, the rampage in Santa Barbara raised the familiar questions: Could the violence have been prevented? Could we have seen this coming?

National conversation about how misogyny fuels gun violence is new, but the story line is old. It is echoed in the majority of mass shootings that involve domestic violence. Start with a man who feels he is entitled to attention, sex, or loyalty from a woman. He feels victimized and then enraged when he doesn’t get it. Easy access to guns makes that rage deadly.

Discussion about whether better mental health intervention could have prevented the Santa Barbara killings were still fresh when a shooting at Seattle Pacific University prompted the same questions. Last week, Seattleites faced an unprecedented choice between a vigil for victims at SPU and another on the same night, this time asking whether homophobia fueled the murder of two young men.

Experts and pundits differ on how to read warning signs. But the consensus seems to be if we somehow could see the danger in advance, we would act to stop it. Of course dangerous people shouldn’t be allowed to have guns, the story goes, but we can’t tell who is dangerous until it’s too late. If we could, we would intervene.

Baloney.

Right now, all over the country, courts and law enforcement have specific information about thousands of people who pose a serious threat of violence. What’s more, courts have heard evidence and issued orders that make it illegal for these people to have guns. Often, the court has specific information that the dangerous person owns a specific gun, and has threatened to kill someone with it. So what happens to get illegal guns away from these known dangerous people, after all the dots have been connected? Next to nothing.

It is illegal under federal law for an abuser served with a Domestic Violence Protection Order to have a firearm. With few exceptions, the law is simply not enforced. Among the victims of domestic violence murders studied by the Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review, a handful had Protection Orders in place because the abuser had threatened murder or suicide with a gun. Courts and law enforcement did nothing to actually get those guns out of dangerous hands. Out of the thousands of victims who petition for Protection Orders in Washington each year, only a tiny minority even ask the court to take away the abuser’s guns. That’s not because the rest aren’t afraid. It’s because they know it’s useless to ask.

Ironically, California lawmakers are looking to Domestic Violence Protection Orders as a model for a new “gun violence restraining order” that would allow courts to temporarily remove guns from people who have been identified as dangerous. But one thing we have learned from efforts to disarm abusers is that these laws don’t enforce themselves. Getting results takes coordination, political will, commitment at every level, and (of course) money.

The good news: it works. One California county hasn’t had a domestic violence murder since they put an aggressive plan in place to take guns out of the equation.

In the wake of a mass shooting, consensus that we need to do something is easy to come by. But the long uphill battle to use the tools we already have in place tells a different story. If we put what we know into practice, then strategies for preventing domestic violence murders can be a model for stopping the violence that shares so many of the same roots. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to get it rolling.

What we talk about when we talk about guns

In the wake of last week’s Navy Yard shooting, we enter another round of the now familiar national conversation about gun violence in America.

Image from Demand Action To End Gun Violence
Image from Demand Action To End Gun Violence

Mother Jones has an in depth analysis of mass shootings since 1982. According to their criteria, the Navy Yard shooting is the fifth such incident in 2013.

According to another compilation of gun violence incidents by reddit users, the fifth mass shooting of this year happened back in January, and the Navy Yard shooting was #247.

Why the huge discrepancy? Whether there have been 5 mass shootings this year or 247 depends on how you define the terms.

Most of the time, “mass shootings” and “gun violence” are defined by the stories that get the most attention and that get under our skin. The stories that are hard to shake because the randomness makes it feel like any one of us could be a target. Studying domestic violence homicides, I am used to thinking about violence as anything but random. But even I was surprised to find out that 57% of mass shootings (defined as 4 or more people killed) involve domestic violence. More than half.

When I heard that number, I thought how is it I have never heard this before? Domestic violence is actually behind most mass shooting deaths in America and yet it is almost never part of the conversation. Until just recently, most analysis of mass shootings doesn’t include domestic violence. Mother Jones defines the term in a way that excludes shootings that happen at home, even if the same shooting in a public place would count.

The media coverage is different too. We read about the deeper social significance of random, public violence. What it says about our society. Domestic violence rarely prompts the same soul searching. That double standard reinforces old myths. That the “real” danger is outside your home, not inside. That men’s violence against their families is a private tragedy, not a social injustice, not a matter for collective action and public policy.

Focusing on men’s violence against women won’t make the solutions to gun violence easy or obvious. But at least it will help us see the problems more clearly.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Where the danger often is

Gun-Violence-Plan

Have you thought about mass killings when dropping your kids off at school or going to a movie lately?  It’s hard not to, given the horrific shootings recently. But do you think of them every time you enter your house?

Most mass shootings occur in private spaces, and involve families. Mayors Against Illegal Guns recently issued a report on mass shootings. In all cases where a shooter killed four or more people, 57% involved domestic violence: meaning the shooter killed their intimate partner, and frequently, their children and other family members.

What surprised me about this report was not the fact that many mass shootings are domestic violence related: we know that from our Fatality Review work. No, what was surprising was to see a mainstream group make this connection: that the deaths of (overwhelmingly) women and children at the hands of murderous (overwhelmingly) men is an identifiable, terrifying pattern and it often has domestic violence at its core. Usually we see the media and officials treating each domestic violence related shooting as an isolated and unpredictable incident.

You and I may have felt frightened by the Sandy Hook or Batman shootings, but if you are a woman in an intimate partnership with a man, especially one who keeps a gun in the house, the odds of being terrorized in your home are higher than the odds of being in a terrorist attack or mass killing committed by a stranger. We know that almost half of women murdered are killed by their intimate partners, and women are more likely to be murdered or threatened with guns when guns are in their homes. The violence most relevant to women and children is the violence committed in their own homes, by a person who should be loving and nurturing them, but we rarely see this connection made so clearly.