How Domestic Violence Feeds the Mass Shooting Epidemic in America

We often hear about men killed by drive-by shootings and at nightclubs, but women and children account for an outsized share of mass shooting victims in the United States.
May 20, 2016, 7:30pm

Over the past seven days, America has witnessed four mass shootings that left four dead and 12 injured. These attacks bring the US mass shooting body count so far this year to 110 dead and 384 injured in 103 incidents.

Meanwhile, Europe suffered zero mass shootings last week, holding the continent's body count in such attacks in 2016 steady at 18 dead and 55 injured.

That doesn't mean that the week was totally quiet for Europe. On Saturday, a well-reported brawl in a Moscow, Russia, cemetery involving at least 200 combatants reportedly using everything from shovels to firearms left at least three dead and 23 wounded. At around the same time, a police operation searching for a murderer in the city of Derbent in Russia's Dagestan Republic went south when allegedly ISIS-linked militants attacked the cops, ultimately killing two and wounding upwards of a dozen. But while these attacks were massive, neither clearly qualifies as a mass shooting as it seems that very few of the casualties in either stemmed from firearms—in the former melee weapons and in the latter grenades were likely behind the bulk of the damage.


Most of America's mass shootings didn't receive as much widespread attention as Moscow's massive scrum—likely because they appeared, by American standards, almost routine. On Saturday, a late-night shooting at a bar in Charleston, West Virginia left one dead and three injured. Almost exactly a day later, another bar shooting in Evansville, Indiana, left another four wounded. And on Wednesday, a street shooting in Indianapolis, Indiana, wounded yet four more.

The only mass shooting that drew widespread media attention in the US over the past few days was a widely-reported domestic incident Tuesday in which cops say a 23-year-old man in Ravenel, South Carolina, killed his girlfriend's mother, sister (who was pregnant with twins), and eight-year-old niece in their mobile home just as she arrived. He then chased her into the open, shot her in the leg, and fired his gun wildly as he dragged her down the street by the hair and tried to drive away with her.

Domestic incidents don't account for nearly as many US mass shootings as, say, escalated fights in nightspots. In 2016, just eight out of 103 incidents to date have clearly stemmed from familial or partner disputes or violence. But all of these incidents have been gruesome, both in their body counts and the details that emerged from them. To wit, although not as notorious as the Piketon, Ohio, massacre or the Hesston, Kansas, or Kalamazoo, Michigan, mass shooting sprees, a domestic incident-turned-mass shooting on February 23 in Phoenix, Arizona, and another on January 27 in Chesapeake, Virginia, had two of the largest mass shooting death tolls this year—four and five dead respectively. And the accounts of these assaults also rival high-profile cases in terms of their gory details, amplified by an intangible sense of betrayal.


Given what Michigan State University criminologist David L. Carter told VICE last week about how it's usually easier to catch a suspect or get witnesses to talk when the attacker and victims knew each other, one might expect some of the eye-catching horrors of domestic-related mass shootings stems from the fact that their circumstances and motives are clearer.

But data collected by the gun violence prevention organization Everytown for Gun Safety and analyzed by the Huffington Post suggest domestic-related mass shootings may actually be uniquely horrific. Whereas they make up a minority of mass shootings as VICE defines them and often receive less attention than random public shooter rampages, when you look at shootings between 2009 and 2015 involving four or more deaths, 57 percent of these especially lethal incidents involved intimate partners or family members. Often unfolding in confined spaces, it's easy to see how these shootings can become concentrated bloodbaths if enough people are in a house. Nearly two-thirds of the victims in these incidents are women and children as well, whereas what we might call the "traditional" victims of gun violence and other mass shootings tend to be men.

Taken together, disproportionally high body counts, unusual victims, and a violation of the safety of homes make these not-so-uncommon types of mass shootings seem especially cruel.

Tragically, many domestic shootings (mass or otherwise) occur following clear signs of violence by the shooters. The alleged Ravenel shooter, for instance, was arrested last August after reportedly hitting the girlfriend he eventually shot; she was pregnant at the time. Despite these red flags, these violent partners or family members (usually men) often manage to retain their guns or obtain them through unregulated or illicit channels. Various advocacy groups have pointed out this problem and multiple ways in which it might be addressed—without infringing on the rights of law-abiding, non-violent gun owners. But there seems to be limited, if any, national desire to address this problem, which allows especially deadly and horrific mass shootings like Ravenel to happen far too often.

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