Dangerous link: 'Firearms, mass shootings, and domestic violence'


Last Sunday, we all heard about another domestic violence related mass shooting -- this time in a Texas small-town church. The murderer -- who had been convicted of brutally assaulting his first wife and her young son in 2012 while he was serving in the Air Force -- recently sent threatening text messages to his second wife's mother. Then he attacked the church where she worships, with a semi-automatic rifle, leaving 26 people dead and at least 20 injured. His wife's grandmother was shot and killed, according to reports.

In 2014, law enforcement investigated reports he had abused his then-girlfriend, whose grandmother he would later kill. He also pleaded guilty that year to animal cruelty for punching a dog. He bragged on social media about getting dogs off Craigslist for target practice - animal abuse and domestic violence (DV) often happen together. Even with all these red flags and prior DV conviction, the murderer easily violated federal law to buy the murder weapon in 2016. Under federal law people convicted of DV or who have orders of protection against them must be entered into a national database, which is supposed to be searched when people buy firearms. (The Air Force acknowledges it failed to follow procedure when the conviction for domestic violence in 2012 was not entered.)

Research demonstrates the majority of mass shootings are committed by men with histories of domestic violence. Everytown.org's latest research (from 2009 to 2016), found 54 percent of mass shootings (four or more people shot and killed, not including the shooter) included the death of the perpetrator's partner or other close family member. Most mass shootings -- 63 percent -- take place at home, not in public places; 40 percent of the deaths in DV-related mass shootings were children. Everytown determined that in approximately 40 percent of mass shootings, there were red flags -- recognized as warning signs by the National Institute of Justice -- like threats to others, suicide threats, violations of orders of protection, and ongoing substance abuse or mental health issues. In one-third of mass shootings, the perpetrator was already prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.

Of course few perpetrators of domestic violence go on to be mass shooters, but one thing all mass shooters have in common is access to firearms. Gun-violence-prevention policies that include strong laws keeping DV perpetrators from possessing firearms will increase safety for victims and the rest of the community. According to Everytown.org, in states requiring comprehensive background checks for firearm purchases, 47 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners. A mechanism allowing law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from people exhibiting dangerous behavior would also increase safety.

New Mexico - one of the top 10 nationally for highest rate of men killing women - has weak state firearms laws. The New Mexico Intimate Partner Death Review Team consistently has recommended passing state laws barring gun purchase or possession by people convicted of domestic violence or under a DV restraining order. Experts also recommend laws requiring people prohibited from possessing firearms under state or federal law to surrender firearms, and requiring law enforcement to remove firearms from the scene of any domestic violence incident.

If you think someone is violating firearm laws, you can call the local police, sheriff, or State Police department. If you think the abuser may be violating federal firearm laws, you can also anonymously call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms: 1-800-ATF-GUNS.

Malinda Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc. (CAV) .