With several national incidents of mass murders in the headlines this year, a number of reports have appeared alleging that domestic violence is a precursor to mass shootings. The histories of many of the shooters would seem to support this.
Devin Patrick Kelley, the man who killed 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November 2017, had a history of domestic violence. In 2012, he was convicted on charges of domestic violence and was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force. He served one year in prison for beating and choking his wife and fracturing his stepson’s skull.
In June 2016, Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 70 others in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Though he had choked his wives, he was never charged for domestic violence.
Another shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport in January 2017 was allegedly committed by Esteban Santiago, 26, who killed five and injured six. He had been charged in January 2016 with assault for choking a former girlfriend.
Cedric Ford killed three co-workers in Kansas in 2016 and had a previous misdemeanor charge for choking his ex-girlfriend.
One exception is Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, who killed 58 people and injured over 500 others in the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting. He had no previous incidents of domestic violence on his record.
Four out of five would seem like a pretty big connection – but are these just cherry-picked examples? Not exactly.
What the Research Shows
In a widely publicized study by Everytown for Gun Safety, it was found that mass shooters in America killed a family member or romantic partner in 54 percent of mass shootings of four or more people. The study looked at incidents for the years 2009 through 2016 and found that 422 people were killed in mass shootings, and over 40 percent were children.
Out of the 10 million women assaulted by their partners each year in the U.S., over four million say that they have been threatened with a gun. One report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that nearly half of female homicides were committed by intimate partners in 2007, and if a perpetrator uses a firearm, the risk of homicide increases by 500 percent.
Overall, American women experience a much higher risk of being killed by a gun than women in other developed countries, and homicide was the fifth-highest cause of death for women ages 18 to 44 in 2015.
All of this is very bad, but does it prove the assertion that previous domestic violence convictions are an indicator that someone will engage in a mass shooting?
Researching the Research Uncovers Fallacies
A closer look at the Everytown study reveals that in the 156 shootings that were evaluated, only 25 percent of the whole revealed prior incidents of domestic violence. If you consider the 85 shootings in which a family member or intimate partner was killed, 41 percent of those shootings involved prior domestic violence incidents.
Every year in the United States, around 10 million cases of domestic violence are reported and there are about 20 annual mass shootings that kill at least four people. It’s simply not correct or fair to say that of those 10 million incidents, over half are predictors for incidents of mass shootings.
We cannot start preemptively assuming that those facing a domestic violence charge will one day engage in a mass killing. Not only do the numbers not bear this out, our justice system was founded based on the idea of innocent until proven guilty. Punishing someone for a crime they have not and may not ever commit is the antithesis of this most American of ideals.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.