On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and opened fire on elementary students and teachers. His heinous violence resulted in the tragic loss of 19 children and two teachers, as well as numerous other traumatic injuries. Ultimately, the gunman was killed by law enforcement. But the Uvalde community was left with life-altering loss.
Before driving to Robb Elementary, the gunmansent three private messageson social media. In the third message, the suspect describes his plan to “shoot up” the elementary school. He had recently acquired two AR-15-style rifles and accompanying ammunition following his eighteenth birthday, both through legal means. Before walking into Robb Elementary, the suspect crashed his truck in a ditch and then “engaged” with a school resource officer, who did not stop him. A lack of foresight from law enforcement — in addition to the hour it took for police to draw out the gunman —drew questions and concernfrom the community. However, the gunman’s first two social media messages highlight additional “red flags” often ignored before mass shootings. The messages detailed the suspect’s intention and then action in shooting his elderly grandmother.
Like many mass shootings, the Uvalde tragedy began with violence against women.
Misogyny and mass shootings
The Uvalde shooting is far from the first American mass shooting to begin with violence against women. Almost exactly a year ago, in May of 2021, a San Jose (VTA) transit employee shot nine of his coworkers and then committed suicide. It waslater revealedhis girlfriend had accused him of domestic violence a decade beforehand, but her legal case against him never resulted in a conviction or permanent restraining order. Had the gunman’s girlfriend won her case, he would have been barred from buying firearms in the state of California.
In March of 2021, Robert Aaron Long shot and killed eight people in three different massage parlors in the Atlanta-area. Long’s motive concerned“feeling tortured”about his sinful desire for sex with women, reflected in the fact that six of his victims were Asian women.
In 2017, a gunman killed 26 church-goers in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He had been convicted of domestic violence and his ex-wife reported hisstatementsclaiming, “he could bury her body where no one would ever find it.”
The shooter who killed 49 people in the horrific 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Floridareportedlybeat his wife while she was pregnant. The list goes on and on.
Aside from minimally-regulated access to firearms, these gunmen all have one thing in common: a history of misogynistic violence and hatred of women. While not all domestic abusers become mass shooters, many mass shooters have histories riddled with domestic assault. In fact,in over half of shootings between 2012 and 2022, mass shooters consistently shot “current or former intimate partner(s)... as part of their rampage.” And given the overwhelming majority of mass shooters are straight men, this violence is often targeted at their female partners. In a2022 report by Everytown For Gun Safety, it was also reported an average of 70 women are shot and killed by their intimate partners each month. This is included in the nearly 1 million women alive who have reported gun violence perpetrated by their intimate partners. But these statistics obviously do not include the numerous instances where women do not report such violence. According to a2018 survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 47% of national domestic violence cases are reported to the police.That’s under half.
Unfortunately, these statistics are even further amplified among women of color and LGBTQIA+ women. Gun violence against women disproportionately effects Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Hispanic women, as well as transgender women. Additionally, women with disabilities find themselves in heightened vulnerable positions when a violent, intimate partner enacts some form of relationship abuse. However, gun violence among these minority populations is largely ignored due tounderreporting.
Despite the clear connection between misogyny and gun violence, there was little public research about misogyny and mass shootings until recently. In May of 2021, Lisa Geller — The Educational Fund To Stop Gun Violence’s state affairs manager — and co-authors Marisa Booty and Cassandra Crifasi published“The role of domestic violence in fatal mass shootings in the United States, 2014-2019.”The study was printed inInjury Epidemiology,a biomedical journal focused on peer-reviewed drug, assault, and abuse research. The study explicitly linked domestic violence to mass shooters.
Geller and her co-authors organized mass shootings in three different categories:
DV-related: at least one victim of the mass shooting was a romantic partner or family member of the gunman
History of DV: the gunman had a history of domestic violence, but the mass shooting did not directly involve a family partner or romantic partner, or
Non-DV-related: the gunman had no history of domestic violence, and no partners or family were involved.
Ultimately, the research concluded that, out of 110 analyzed mass shootings, 59.1% were DV-related and 9.1% were committed by a person with a history of domestic violence. In an additional category, Geller and co-authors concluded 68.2% of the mass shootings were DV or History of DV-related. Lisa Gellerfurther stated, “...we found that mass shootings connected to domestic violence incidents or perpetrated by a shooter with a history of domestic violence have higher fatality rates…”
The findings very clearly demonstrated the connection between domestic violence and mass shootings, shining a spotlight on gun violence prevention policy and “the importance of disarming abusers.”
What’s the rationale?
So, why can we see such a clear connection between misogyny and mass gun violence? April Zeoli, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University and homicide researcher, claims both domestic abuse against women and mass shootings share the same foundation. “Domestic violence is about power and control over your intimate partner, and a mass shooting is about control over whether people live or die, so it is that ultimate power,” Zeoli said in aninterview with The Trace.
In anotherdiscussion with The Trace, psychologist Gene Deisinger describes the importance of caution around people who express “acute anger.” Deisinger explains, “Once you’ve crossed the threshold of being angry and violent, it’s easier to cross again in the future…” For domestic abusers, women are easy, low-risk targets. But once they cross the threshold into gun violence against women, mass violence is much easier to achieve.
Further, many mass shooters are driven bya sense of toxic masculinity. They may feel that aggression, control, and domination are required to establish themselves as a “real man,” first with the domination of female partners and then with the domination of a general population. Some are also resentful about inadequacy in social and romantic relationships, or feel the world owes them more than they are afforded. Either way, the use of firearms is seen as a way to re-establish masculinity. Inpopular culture, guns are even seen as an extension of a man’s penis. So when a man feels the need to re-establish dominance, the obvious choice is to pick up a gun.
What Can We Do?
There are lots of ways to combat violence against women and subsequently, mass shootings. On a state level, laws prohibiting the sale of firearms to domestic abusers need to be strengthened. Manyactivistseven push for state laws requiring abusers to relinquish the guns they already own. Such laws would also require firearm dealers to notify law enforcement when a domestic abuser or convicted stalker fails a background check during purchase. Still,only 17 statesallow judges to issue orders under which guns can be taken from individuals with a history of domestic abuse. And, even then, police can only disarm abusers temporarily. But disarming abusers in all 50 states is absolutely crucial for the safety of women and the general public.
On a federal level, federal background checks on gun ownership urgently need bolstering. The federal system of background checks consists of numerous loopholes that allow dangerous individuals to acquire guns, including the “boyfriend loophole,” the “Charleston loophole,” and the “unlicensed sale loophole.”For example, federal law only prohibits domestic abusers from owning guns if they have been married to, have lived with, or have a child with their victim.
The “boyfriend loophole” allows convicted abusers to own guns, as long as they do not meet these criteria. For the last three decades, homicides committed by male intimate partners have steadily increased with little effect on gun control. The “Charleston loophole” is named after a 2015 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina where nine were murdered and three wounded during a Bible study. This federal loophole allows the purchase of a gun without a completed background check, as long as the federal background check is not concluded within three business days. Thirdly, the “unlicensed sale loophole” or “gun show loophole” allows the purchase of firearms from unlicensed, private sellers (usually at gun shows) without any background checks. Abusers and mass murderers can utilize these federal loopholes to acquire dangerous firearms, and closing them is absolutely crucial.
Insupportof lax gun laws, the National Rifle Association (NRA) argues that taking firearms from abusers is unlawful. The gun lobby claims expanding on instances in which abusers can lose ownership of firearms would “deny people due process and punish people for behavior that is not violent,”according to The New York Times. However, it is hard to find instances in which convicted abusers were charged for non-violent actions. Allison Anderman, senior counsel at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, disagrees with the NRA. Andermanstatesthat laws aimed at disarming abusers “are a critical step in saving the lives of abuse survivors.”
Given the relationship between violence against women and mass shootings, such policy could also be key in preventing massacres.But we have to act now.
The names of the Robb Elementary School Shooting can be foundhere. Please considersupporting Uvalde resources(blood donations, crisis counseling and mental health resources), donating to thevictims’ families’ GoFundMe pages, or donating through Zelle email@example.com.