We need to start treating domestic violence like the national security issue it is

November 7, 2017

On Monday, law enforcement confirmed that the Texas shooter, who killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, had threatened his mother-in-law, who normally attended that church, days ahead of the attack. (She wasn’t there on Sunday.) And while this particular shooting’s only motive allegedly stemmed from a domestic dispute, it’s not unique from any of the recent mass shootings in the U.S.. If anything, it’s a glaring example that we have to start treating domestic violence like a national security issue and reform the way we handle the procedures to legally buy firearms, since the shooter shouldn’t have been able to have one at all.

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

On Monday, law enforcement confirmed that the Texas shooter, who killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, had threatened his mother-in-law, who normally attended that church, days ahead of the attack. (She wasn’t there on Sunday.) And while this particular shooting’s only motive allegedly stemmed from a domestic dispute, it’s not unique from any of the recent mass shootings in the U.S.. If anything, it’s a glaring example that we have to start treating domestic violence like a national security issue and reform the way we handle the procedures to legally buy firearms, since the shooter shouldn’t have been able to have one at all.

This shooting might be the best starting point for state legislators to tackle gun violence and gun law reform.

Freeman Martin, a regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news briefing,“This was not racially motivated, it wasn’t over religious beliefs. There was a domestic situation going on within the family and the in-laws.” The shooter bought the assault weapon he used during the shooting in 2016, although he shouldn’t have been allowed to, and it was due to what appears to be a clerical error.

The shooter was court marshaled in 2012 while stationed at the Holloman Air Force Base for assaulting his wife and fracturing his stepson’s skull. He was confined for a year and then discharged with a reduced title in 2014. The shooter shouldn’t have been able to buy a gun for two reasons: Because his violent crime was punishable by more than a year (though he only served one year) and he should have been ineligible to buy a gun in according to a federal background check.

“Initial information indicates that [the Texas shooter’s] domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations,” an Air Force statement issued later Monday said.

But since he was tried in a military court, the Air Force was supposed to enter his criminal record in the FBI database that’s used to run background checks. After investigating why the Texas shooter had a gun license, they found that they just didn’t enter the info. They’ve since opened an investigation to find out why and how many other violent, ex-military criminals there are out there because of these careless, tragic oversights.

However, when it comes to abusers and their access to guns, our systems fail all the time.

The Texas shooter’s motive was allegedly related to his violent past against his family, but he’s not alone. The Las Vegas shooter had been previously charged with domestic violence. The San Bernardino shooter, too. And the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter. So was the guy who shot up a congressional softball practice this summer. The list goes on. In 2016, New York’s Rebecca Traister outlined the history of mass shooters having a history of domestic abuse, including even the perpetuator of the attack in Nice, France, on Bastille Day in 2016.

Taking domestic violence seriously is the first step to cutting down gun violence.

It seems like after each one of these tragedies, politicians and pundits attempt to shut down a conversation about gun reform or any “politicization” of the attacks. But there’s nothing radical about the fact that 54 percent of U.S. mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 involved the murder of a family member or intimate partner, according to an Everytown for Gun Safety report.

So how do these men get guns after assaulting their partners?

It’s shocking and absurd and terrifying that any of these men were able to own or buy weapons after being charged with domestic violence. But that’s just how the laws are. According to FBI data, between 2003 and 2012, 34 percent of women were murdered by an intimate partner and more of those crimes were committed with a gun. According to Think Progress, 50 percent of female homicides are attributed to intimate partner violence, at least in states where data is made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal background checks make it so that anyone with a violent misdemeanor conviction can’t buy a gun. But — and this is a huge but — state laws have crazy loopholes that make it so some abusers can still get away with keeping their guns. There’s something called the “boyfriend loophole,” which is just a gut wrenching nickname for something that kills so many.

Only 10 states bar people who abuse someone if they were “just” dating, meaning they didn’t live or have children together.

According to the Center for American Progress, if someone has just beat their girlfriend but not their spouse, it sort of doesn’t “count” when it comes to domestic violence. And not all abuse counts as a “violent misdemeanor.” Only nine states bar those with a misdemeanor, like stalking, from buying a gun. Also, when people file a temporary restraining order against their abuser or stalker, only 16 states make those people hand over their guns. According to The Trace, the time when a restraining order is issued is also the most triggering.

So why not close those loopholes?

In the name of being super, extra, non-partisan about gun reform, what about just asking legislators to get serious about taking guns away from violent partners? That, surely, should be something even the National Rifle Association should want. Like, a guy who cracks a kid’s skull and beats his wife should not be allowed to own a firearm, since he’s proven himself to be ready to snap and hurt another human being. A man who stalks a woman should have his guns taken away, or at the very least, forced to declare that he owns them, which is not always the case —  because a temporary restraining order is just a piece of legal paper and not a bulletproof vest.

As much as it might make you throw up a little in your mouth, Donald Trump and other legislators might be at least partially right when they say that mass shootings are a “mental health issue.” But not in the way that they think they mean (since those politicians are effectively cowing to NRA lobbyists who swear guns aren’t the issue). We need to ensure that “certified batterers” get rehabilitative therapy and follow-up care — and don’t walk into a gun shop or gun show.

In no way are we policy experts, but there’s something to be said for taking away a person’s right to buy or maintain firearms after they abuse or stalk a partner. We also don’t force domestic abusers and stalkers into court regulated therapy like we do sex offenders. Why not? Every abuser should be forced to attend a “certified batterer intervention program,” as the Domestic Violence Hotline suggest. We take very special care in ensuring that sex offenders are tracked, attend mandated therapy, and face their charges for the rest of their lives. Why isn’t the same or equivalent for domestic abusers?

It might be because there’s something inherently misogynist in our state laws that think domestic violence and sexual harassment, such as stalking, is something not worth worrying about because most of the victims are women, and disproportionately women of color or identify as LGBTQ. Ignoring domestic violence means ignoring half of female murder victims.

So, sure, allow gun advocates and politicians who refuse to see the light about gun reform their day here. If we can’t talk about *just* guns, let’s talk about how domestic abuse is a pretty good sign that someone is going to pick up their legally issued gun and shoot up their mother-in-law’s church. Or ex’s office. Or just have a history of losing their mind and raging against anyone around them. We can all get behind that, right?

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