Mass shootings in the United States tend to share two characteristics: They are committed using assault weapons, and they are committed by men with a past of domestic violence and a poisonous relationship toward women.
On Tuesday, an 18-year-old gunman massacred at least 19 children and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school. Before he embarked on his rampage, the gunman also reportedly shot his grandmother, who, as of Tuesday evening, was “still holding on.”
That shooting wasn’t the only sign of a fractured approach to women and girls. A teen girl told VICE News that he had contacted her on a “Tinder for kids” app, but after she rejected him, he added her on Instagram and tagged her username in a photo of guns.
In screenshots shared with VICE News, the girl, Anita, messaged the gunman, “WHAT. What your guns gotta do with me.”
“Idk,” he replied. “Be grateful I tagged you.”
In another message sent hours before the shooting, he said that he had “a lil secret,” in a possible reference to his deadly plans.
“Now people are attacking me for it and they think I'm his girlfriend, which I am not,” Anita told VICE News. (She declined to share her second name with VICE News, citing privacy concerns.) “Aside from these interactions, I know nothing about him.”
She continued, “Most people are actually very supportive and saying that it's not my fault, but a handful of people are still saying that I should have predicted what he was going to do.”
That, too, is a frequent response after a mass shooting: suggestions that a girl or woman is, in some way, to blame, especially for saying “no” to a boy or man.
After a student shot and killed at least 10 people in a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, in 2018, news outlets ran with the narrative that he had opened fire after being rejected by a girl. That same year, after a Maryland student shot two students, including one who had a “prior relationship” with him, the Associated Press dubbed him a “lovesick teenager.”
“It actually sends a chilling message to young women, which is, ‘Here is the cost of saying no,’” CJ Pascoe, a University of Oregon associate sociology professor who studies masculinity and sexuality in high school, told VICE News at the time. “What would be really great is if journalists would take that moment to perhaps highlight the expectations of masculinity for young men and to perhaps open a discussion about alternate ways to be a man.”
A link to domestic violence is all too common in mass shootings, as copious research has uncovered. An Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence study published last year found that, in nearly 70 percent of mass shootings analyzed by researchers, the perpetrator either killed family members or partners, or had a history of domestic violence. Children are particularly at risk: Out of the 362 children and teens killed in mass shootings between 2009 and 2020, 72 percent died in domestic violence-related attacks, Everytown for Gun Safety found in a 2021 report. (In this analysis, mass shootings were defined as circumstances where four or more people died.)
“The connection between domestic violence and gun violence is undeniable and made all the more deadly because of this country’s extraordinarily lax gun laws,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told VICE News last year, after a man shot and killed seven people, including himself and his girlfriend, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “From closing the dating partner and background check loopholes to enacting red flag laws, we need federal action to protect women and end this gun violence epidemic that kills 100 people every day and wounds hundreds more.”
Many of the most infamous shooters in American history share this dark legacy of domestic abuse—and a hatred towards and desire to control women, which has also been well-documented. The man behind the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 people dead, beat his wife while she was pregnant and threatened to kill her, his wife said. The man who shot 26 people to death in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017 had once been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and step-son.
After a gunman in Dayton, Ohio killed nine people in 2019, one of his female friends told the New York Times, “He was kind of hateful to women because they didn’t want to date him.” He was apparently more than that: In ninth grade, years before the shooting, another female friend said she learned of a list of people, mostly female, who the gunman threatened with violence or sexual violence.
The Uvalde shooting Tuesday ended when a Border Patrol agent killed the gunman.
As of Wednesday, Republicans have held fast to their usual response to the mass shootings that have now become a ghastly hallmark of U.S. life: Rather than addressing gun policy, domestic violence, or misogyny, many are pushing for more guns.