Reducing Mass Shootings by Recognizing Red Flags
Want to reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States? Then let’s ramp up efforts to stop domestic abuse.
Just as a red flag is raised when a child tortures animals, often a precursor to later criminal behavior, there is plenty of evidence that mass shooters display red flag behaviors, like aggression and violence against women and children, before they ever pick up a gun and start hunting fellow human beings.
Oh, I know domestic abuse is a topic people don’t like to talk about. And when they do they often conclude it’s a private matter or a “woman’s issue.” It happens behind closed doors. It’s their business. We shouldn’t interfere. Wrong, wrong, wrong. In case study after case study we see that those who beat and otherwise terrorize their families (some of the aggressors are women) will then direct their unresolved anger at perfect strangers. It’s a flaming red flag that we should no longer look past.
The Everytown for Gun Safety group analyzed nine years’ worth of data on mass shootings and discovered that in 54% of the cases the incident started with an angry person going after an intimate partner or relative. Innocent bystanders were considered collateral damage. Case in point: Devin Patrick Kelley who walked into a Sutherland Springs, Texas church in 2017 boiling mad at his mother-in-law. She was not there that morning but, with guns blazing, Kelley murdered 26 others. He then committed suicide. The military court-martialed Kelley for his domestic abuse but failed to enter his conviction into the national database which would have prohibited him from having a firearm.
Sometimes the pent-up rage stemming from homelife discord is directed at total strangers and is often associated with some perceived slight or controversial issue. Omar Mateen beat and dominated his wife until she escaped his clutches. In 2016, his simmering fury spilled out onto gay men at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. There he fatally shot 49 people and wounded 58 others.
Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland, Florida high school shooter had broken up with a girlfriend, threatened her new boyfriend and stalked at least two female students. He returned with guns to his former high school last year,killed 17 people and injured another 17.
Cedric Ford had just been served with a restraining order filed by his ex-girlfriend in February 2016 when he went to work in Newton, Kansas and inexplicably shot 17 people, three fatally.
James Hodgkinson from Belleville, Illinois had an obvious problem with females and a violent temper. He’d been arrested for choking a foster child and dragging her by the hair as well as punching a woman in the face. In June 2017, he drove to the Washington, DC area and opened fire on a baseball practice field, shooting 3 and nearly killing Congressman Steve Scalise. See a pattern here?
Of course, this is not to say all domestic abusers will go on to commit a mass shooting but there is no denying this is a nationwide public health issue. The crime of abuse may happen behind closed doors, but it can instill a seething sense of anger in the perpetrator that then spills out into society.
And yes, (before you start writing me an e-mail) I concede, guns are another common denominator in these horrible events. But trillions of words have already been written about more gun control laws and not enough has been written about the obvious problems associated with domestic abuse. The time is long past for us to start openly talking about how to treat family abusers. Do we dole out harsher prison sentences, insist on long-term, mandatory anger management classes for the abuser or fund more programs to help women find the strength to walk away? And what more can be done to help children caught up in the adult dysfunction?
I recently spoke to Jen Langbein about this issue. She is the CEO of the extraordinarily successful Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas. Her group is dedicated to the idea that we simply should not accept a world where women feel unsafe in their own homes. Period. Langbein mentioned the tragic 2016 event her city endured when five Dallas police officers were murdered, , nine others injured. The mass shooter in that case, army private Micah Johnson, had been sent back from Afghanistan after an accusation that he had sexually harassed a female solider. His case was apparently so egregious the army recommended an “other than honorable discharge” for him.
As I write this MassShootingTracker.org estimates nearly 140 Americans have lost their lives in mass shooting events so far this year – and its only April. Think about that.
Langbein wrote in an Op-Ed last year, “Mass shootings shock and frighten us, but domestic violence often does not – even though violence in the home is much deadlier and can serve as a precursor to horrific acts in public.” We need to start asking ourselves why that is.