Mass shootings are increasingly becoming a fact of life in the United States. According to the FBI, a mass shooting is defined as a shooting where at least four people are killed, not including the perpetrator. America has significantly more mass shootings than any other comparable Western nation.
The goal of my project was to explore if a causal relationship exists between mass shootings and domestic violence. Mass shooting data from multiple sources such as the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports, Congressional Research Reports, Everytown and Mother Jones reports etc. for the past 20 years (1998-2017) was extensively analyzed in this project. Each instance of mass shooting was validated through 10-12 supplementary articles in the media which provided additional information such as location, criminal and mental history, motive, relationship to victims etc. A custom Google Map was created to capture all the 74 mass shootings in a visual fashion. Each shooting was categorized into the following buckets: domestic violence, workplace violence, mental illness, vengeance, terrorism, race-related and gang-related violence. Detailed information such as the identity of the shooter, number of casualties, firearms used in the shooting and whether the guns were obtained legally or not is indicated on the map. The analysis leads to the conclusion that roughly 36% of these mass shootings had a strong correlation to domestic violence meaning that the shooting itself was either a case of domestic violence or the shooter had previously been reported for domestic violence against a spouse or a family member. The frequency of domestic violence related mass shootings has increased over this 20-year period, especially the last few years, which has witnessed a dramatic spike in shootings and casualties. The surprising observation is that the majority of the shooters in domestic violence related cases obtained their firearms legally. This demonstrates that the systems in place was not able to prevent these horrible abusers from obtaining deadly firearms legally.
In order to address this serious issue, a package of three legislative proposals, already implemented successfully in several states, is proposed as part of this research. These include the following:
- ERPO (Extreme Risk Protective Order), a bill that essentially allows family members to notify police if a gun owner exhibits aggressive or dangerous behavior that may put themselves or others at risk and thereby allows law enforcement to confiscate their guns for a temporary period of time. Given that mass shooters and domestic violence abusers often exhibit signs of aggressive and dangerous behavior before the actual act of shooting, allowing family members to report such behavior to authorities can potentially prevent such familicides. ERPO has already been enacted in California, Oregon, Washington, Indiana and Connecticut. States where ERPO has been enacted witnessed one suicide averted for every 10 guns seized. Currently, ERPO bills are being considered in 19 states and Washington DC.
- Secondly, the boyfriend loophole that originated in the Lautenberg Amendment allows those with a domestic violence restraining order against a partner with non-marital status or stalker to continue to buy or possess firearms. This loophole has not been closed in 29 states allowing dangerous abusers to keep their firearms. According to the Bureau of Justice, 48.6% of domestic violence victims are in dating relationships, which indicates that prohibiting these violent abusers from possessing firearms is imperative.
- Although the Lautenberg Amendment prevented domestic violence offenders from obtaining guns, it did not give authority to the government to remove firearms already in their possession from these offenders. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, neither law enforcement nor the courts have been granted the authority to confiscate firearms from domestic violence offenders in as many as 23 states.
I firmly believe that these common sense legislative approaches which enjoy bi-partisan support can significantly reduce mass shootings related to domestic violence. None of these proposals call for a broad-based ban of firearms which allows law-abiding citizens to possess firearms while keeping them out of the hands of dangerous abusers. As a result, these pieces of legislation can be realistically passed in the near future with the potential to significantly reduce gun violence.