Written by Writer’s Corps member Kathryn Snyder
As we ring in the new year and look forward to the months to come, I wanted to reflect on a few things that should stay in 2017, namely dabbing, the word “lit,” unhealthy partners, guns and violence. When put together, gun violence are two of the most triggering words of 2017 and for good reason.
Last year, we witnessed an uptick in mass shootings that left no one untouched. We watched as wave after relentless wave of mass shootings made headlines nationwide only to dissipate in time for another incident to rock us.
Each incident seemed more unusual than the last with seemingly no link between the shooters’ behavior and no way to predict the next one. The family of a man who was killed in the Texas church shooting that occurred last November, however, filed a claim against the US Department of Defense and the US Air Force. They believe there is a connection between the aggressive tactics the shooter, Devin Kelley, used to control and intimidate the people around him and the incident that resulted in the death of their loved one. And they may be right. In retrospect, it’s clear that the warning signs were there. And if these warning signs, including Kelly’s history of domestic violence, were acted upon, the lives of more than two dozen people may have been saved.
While not all mass shooters have a history of abusive behavior, this is still an important indicator of future violence. Much like Devin Kelley, a large number of people who commit mass shootings have a history of abusing their partners. As German Lopez points out in his article, America’s domestic violence problem is a big part of its gun problem, “Omar Mateen, who carried out the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016; Robert Lewis Dear, the alleged 2015 Planned Parenthood shooter and John Houser, who killed two and injured nine in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 2014” were all accused or convicted of intimate partner violence, or behavior that causes their partner physical and psychological harm.
And when it comes to shootings and people with a history of violence, family members are disproportionately at risk. Everytown found that between 2009 – 2016, 54% of mass shootings involved the murder of an intimate partner or family member. Recognizing that intimate partner violence is a red flag for future violent behavior, many legislators have stepped up in a major way to stop the sale of guns to former abusers.
While federal laws ban people convicted of a domestic violence-related felony or misdemeanor from possessing a gun, there remains a limited federal capacity to enforce these restrictions. This led several states to enact their own statutes that allow law enforcement to confiscate guns when responding to domestic violence calls and permit judges to order people convicted of domestic violence to surrender their firearms. The law also prohibits people with offenses related to domestic violence from obtaining a concealed carry permit.
Despite these strides in policy, keeping guns away from abusive partners is not easy. In most states, there is a large gap in prevention for same-sex couples and people that are dating called the boyfriend-girlfriend loophole. The current laws stop people convicted of domestic abuse from buying or owning a firearm only if they were married to the person they harmed, lived with the person they harmed or had a child with the person they harmed. Twelve states have already closed the boyfriend-girlfriend loophole by enacting inclusive legislation but more change is possible and needed.
Staying Safe When A Gun is Present
Creating a safety plan is one of the most critical steps to take when exiting an unhealthy relationship since experts say the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is after the breakup. A safety plan is a strategy that helps you navigate a break up with a potentially dangerous partner while looping in other people to better ensure your safety. Having a gun in the home complicates safety planning for a person experiencing domestic abuse because the risk of homicide increases by 20 times. A report by the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data found that almost 2,000 people are killed by their intimate partner annually in the U.S. The same report estimated that 50% of these intimate partner homicides (IPHs) are committed with firearms.
Creating a safety plan can help alleviate some of the anxiety and fear associated with leaving an unhealthy relationship. However, a safety plan must be tailored to an individual’s needs, and when a firearm is involved, should include knowing the location of the weapon(s) and ammunition.
Are You Inspired to Take Action?
You can be a part of the solution to end gun violence by taking action in your community. Check out Everytown’s article, “7 Actions You Can Take to Prevent Gun Violence” for starters.
And if you or a friend are in an unhealthy relationship where a gun is present, please reach out to your domestic violence center to create a safety plan or visit loveisrespect.org to create one online. To contact an expert for yourself or a friend, please visit One Love’s resource page.
Disclaimer: One Love is a nonpartisan organization that does not advocate for or against gun ownership or gun ownership legislation. There is, however, an undeniable correlation between gun violence and abuse that any person, regardless of political view, should be aware of and understand. When it comes to individuals with histories of violence against their partners, most can agree that they should not be granted access to firearms.