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Why We Can’t Ignore the Link between Mass Shootings & Domestic Violence

Blog post Jessica Merrill


Can we talk about that? We know there are so many important issues to be discussed that don’t easily lend themselves to a 140-character tweet or a Facebook post, and this new blog gives us a forum to engage you in those conversations. We’ll be sharing items that catch our eye and spark our interest – and hopefully spark yours as well.

So what exactly do we want to talk about?

We’ll be sharing reflections on thought-provoking domestic violence-related news and/or research. We’ll also use this as a space to explore the many intersections with our work: immigration, LGBT equality, racism, civil rights, systemic inequalities, and so much more. Importantly, Partnership staff and Board Members will be able to voice their individual perspectives to give you a better glimpse into the many things our movement is discussing. We hope you’ll all join us in these reflections and conversation.


Every time I learn of someone losing their life to violence, I think about the all the opportunities that were robbed from them in one moment. Here are some very recent examples: Two days ago, Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson, both teachers, were murdered in a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater. How many students could they have impacted? Clare Orton of Walnut Creek was killed this week, allegedly by an ex-boyfriend. She never got a chance to finish her college education at San Diego State. Five people, including Dr. Amanda Crews and her two children, were murdered in Modesto (Amanda’s former partner is the suspect). Amanda won’t get to raise her children and watch them grow.

These tragedies hurt everyone and leave scars on our national psyche. We collectively mourn and ask in frustration, “What can be done?” First, we have to acknowledge the clear link between domestic violence and mass shootings. USA Today just released an in-depth article called Beyond Bloodshed, which brings this connection to light: over half of mass killings (defined as four or more deaths) are family-related. Specifically, breakups are the cause of a quarter of mass killings.

We must get way past viewing these types of mass murders as a series of isolated events. Because abusive partners intentionally seek power and control, it’s essential to name this behavior and its larger implications. As Nancy Leong of Slate put it so well,

Too often, our society resists taking domestic violence and other forms of gendered violence, such as stalking and sexual assault, as seriously as other kinds of violence. We need to stop dismissing gendered violence and start learning from the pattern present in one incident after another. Men who engage in violence at home are often men who engage in violence outside the home. And men who devalue women’s lives are, by definition, men who devalue human lives.

Yesterday’s heartbreaking shooting illustrates this: Family members of John Russell Houser, the gunman that shot Mayci and Breaux and Jillian Johnson in Louisiana, said that they were “fearful of him” and submitted a restraining order in 2008. It seems Houser also had discriminatory thoughts about women. Calvin Floyd, who had Houser on his radio show multiple times, said, ”The best I can recall, Rusty had an issue with feminine rights. He was opposed to women having a say in anything.”

Gender-based violence thrives because there are aspects of our culture that normalize it. A lack of race and gender equity fuel this fire, so it’s not surprising that privilege is a factor in mass shootings—a Mother Jones report found that 63 percent were carried out by white men. We saw this in the devastating, racially-charged murder of nine in Charleston, South Carolina; Dylan Roof, a white male, is being charged for this act with a hate crime. Reports indicate that he said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” This language combines racist accusations against African Americans as well as a perceived ownership of white women—and the entire country. It is notable that six African American women were killed in this shooting.

Again, we ask, “What can be done?” Investing in prevention is a solution that will yield long-term benefits. Advocates often speak about protective factors that reduce violence. These strategies focus on building community and reducing isolation, and really make an effort to understand one another by creating healthy relationships—whether they are between partners, friends or neighbors. Domestic violence organizations are making a difference in this category. They’re more than just crisis centers: they’re hubs for building more peaceful communities.

There have been 126 victims of mass shootings in California between 2006 and 2012, according to Beyond Bloodshed. The question is: can individuals and institutions put more resources into promoting gender and racial equality? I hope so.  

Jessica Merrill, Communications & Development Manager