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“A Massive Crisis”: Majority of U.S. Mass Shootings Have Links to Domestic Violence

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With the U.S. marking at least 242 mass shootings so far in 2021, according to the Gun Violence Archive, we speak with policy expert Julia Weber about the link between gun violence and domestic violence. “We know that this is a massive crisis that we need to address much more effectively,” says Weber, the implementation director at the Giffords Law Center. A 2020 Bloomberg analysis looking at nearly 750 mass shootings over a six-year span found about 60% of the shootings were either domestic violence attacks or committed by men with histories of domestic violence.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The Gun Violence Archive is reporting there have been at least 242 mass shootings so far this year. That’s more than a mass shooting a day.

We turn now to look at the link between domestic violence and mass shootings. Last year, Bloomberg published an analysis of nearly 750 mass shootings over the previous six years. It found that about 60% of the shootings were either domestic violence attacks or committed by men with histories of domestic violence.

One of the deadliest mass shootings so far this year took place in San Jose, California, last week, when a 57-year-old public transportation employee killed nine of his co-workers at a light rail yard. Like many other mass killers, the gunman, Samuel Cassidy, had a history of domestic violence. One ex-girlfriend filed a restraining order against him in 2009, accusing him of rape and sexual assault.

We’re joined now by Julia Weber. She is the implementation director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. She’s also an expert on domestic violence policy, joining us from San Francisco.

Julia Weber, thank you so much. Why don’t you lay out these connections that are often overlooked.

JULIA WEBER: Well, thank you, Amy. And, of course, thank you for covering this issue. And my thoughts, of course, are with those who are most directly affected by what happened in San Jose last week and, unfortunately, the many people who are dealing with gun violence on a regular basis, as well as domestic violence. And I’m sure we have folks tuning in who have experienced domestic violence, who may be living with domestic violence currently. And, you know, this is a massive public health problem, as is gun violence.

And, of course, the nexus between firearms violence and domestic violence is a particularly lethal one, as you’ve noted. It impacts not only the people most directly affected — intimate partners, children, family members — but all of us, because of the connection to mass shootings. So, domestic violence has been going on long before the firearms violence crisis, but the combination is much more likely to result in severe injury and death. We have over a million women alive today in the United States who have been shot or shot at by male partners. We have 600 women a year, at least, who are killed by their intimate partners as a result of firearms violence. That’s one about every 14 hours or so. So, you know, we know that this is a massive crisis that we need to address much more effectively.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Julia Weber, in terms of the — what has been the trend in terms of women being shot to death by their partners? And also, has the pandemic, in one way or another, made things better or worse?

JULIA WEBER: Well, you know, one of the challenges in this space is that it’s very hard to get good documentation. So, on the one hand, we can see, during the pandemic, for example, that there are communities that have seen an uptick in calls to local hotlines and calls for assistance. We know the National Domestic Violence Hotline has reported an increased use of their chat feature, which is a feature that can allow folks to contact the hotline for safety planning and referral resources without having to pick up the phone, which, of course, became that much more complicated when people were required to stay home, sometimes in an unsafe home with someone who had been abusive. But we have a sense that there has been an increase.

At the same time, we see that some places have not reported an increase, which could in fact be the result of ongoing subordination, suppression, marginalization, inability to contact hotlines and others for assistance when we were locked down and unable to leave the house, when children weren’t in school and teachers weren’t in the same position to report child abuse, which is a form of domestic or family violence, as well.

So, you’ll see varying numbers, but, in general, we have seen increases around domestic violence and use of firearms in domestic violence cases. The national hotline has reported that more callers are reporting that firearms have played a role in the domestic violence they’re experiencing, whether it’s threats, injury or concerns about potentially lethal outcomes.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Julia, if domestic violence were taken seriously, especially women being killed, abused, getting restraining orders, this link to the mass killings after, if this was known — what has to be done when it comes to these men getting guns, that would prevent so many of these mass shootings?

JULIA WEBER: Well, you know, we need to have good policy in place, we need to improve existing policy, and then we need to implement policy. So, that’s one of the roles I play in my work around implementation, is that, you know, first we have to advocate for and put in place good policy, which includes automatic firearm prohibitions from the get-go — that is, when an emergency civil restraining order might be issued, an ex parte or temporary order, as well as an order after hearing. In California, that’s the case, but it’s not the case in every state. It’s not the case under our federal law, as well.

Then we have to ensure that those policies are handed out fairly, consistently, there aren’t workarounds to get around firearm prohibitions. We see too many workarounds in these civil restraining order cases.

And then we have to ensure that they’re actually followed through on. And that means getting the firearms from someone who currently owns firearms and becomes prohibited. It means ensuring that we have universal background checks, so that if someone who is prohibited attempts to purchase firearms or ammunition, that that would show up, and they would in fact be denied.

So, you know, there are several different aspects of what we need to do a better job around policy. And then, of course, we need to do a —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

JULIA WEBER: All right. We also need to do a much better job addressing misogyny and domestic violence from the start — that is, recognizing that there’s real harm that occurs as a result of gender bias.

AMY GOODMAN: Julia Weber, we want to thank you so much for being with us — this clearly needs a much larger discussion — implementation director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Giffords Law Center named for Gabby Giffords. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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