SAN ANTONIO – There is a deep connection between mass shootings and domestic violence.
The Sutherland Springs shooter was a convicted abuser and reportedly targeted his mother-in-law the day he killed 26 people at the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church.
The Uvalde gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers shot his grandmother before the massacre. Women had previously reported him to be violent.
A study released in 2020 by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence showed that, in more than two-thirds (68.2%) of mass shootings analyzed, the perpetrator either killed family or intimate partners or had a history of domestic violence.
“We already know that domestic violence with the presence of firearms creates not only an increased risk for lethal outcomes but also serious injury,” said Julia Weber, implementation director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Weber said that could be seen in astounding statistics.
“There’s over 1 million alive today who have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner,” she said. “It includes the over 4.5 million who have talked about threats associated with firearms and the presence of firearms. And it includes the thousands who have lost their lives to gun violence, including those who have experienced mass shootings.”
Experts on the topic have said the necessary response is two-pronged: create stronger policies that remove guns from domestic violence offenders and fund more services for victims to end the cycle of violence.
“Offenders of domestic violence are not permitted to possess firearms or ammunition by law in the state of Texas or federally. So when we take action to make sure that we’re holding them accountable and that those firearms are being removed, then we are in a position to help prevent disasters,” said Judge Monique Diaz, who presides over the 150th Civil District Court of Texas.
Diaz also co-chairs the Bexar County Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence (CCDV).
The CCDV is a joint city-county commission, prompting every field in the community to bridge gaps in service and strengthen programs and policies.
There are seven committees: prosecution, judiciary, health care, education, law enforcement, nonprofit, and policy.
A recent success was the commission’s creation of a process allowing judges to require a follow-up for domestic violence offenders who are no longer allowed to have firearms.
“We have a collaboration with law enforcement who is ready, willing and able to take those firearms and ammunition into their possession and store them, at least for the duration of that prohibition,” Diaz said.
The Bexar County Commissioners Court provided the funding for those compliance officers to work on this issue.
Weber applauds the program, saying she deals with the implementation of these laws every day.
“So that’s a whole new set of policies: how do you ensure the person knows they’re prohibited? How do you make it more likely that they know where to turn in the firearms? How do you make sure that if they retain them in violation of the order, there’s some accountability or follow-up?” she said.
Weber and Diaz both noted it’s not just about policy changes.
“When you read about the shooters, you find out that they grew up in a home where they would witness domestic violence or high conflict, or experienced abuse,” Weber said.
That means services for children in abusive situations need to be funded and strengthened to stop the cycle of violence.
“Not everyone who experiences violence becomes violent. I want to be clear about that, but certainly, there are traumatic effects of the kinds of violence young people experience in their families,” Weber said.
“What we know is that survivors of one form of violence are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of other forms of violence in the future. So we need to see where we could have done a better job as institutions and community members in order to prevent those cycles from perpetuating,” Diaz said.
That’s why the CCDV treats domestic violence as a public health emergency, trying to find the root causes of violence and treating that at all stages of someone’s life.
The hope is that if communities across the nation can implement these changes, there will be fewer mass shootings.
“We should not let those lives be lost for no reason. We need to do something about it to improve the safety for these children and our community,” Diaz said.
Weber and Diaz will be joined by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and state Sen. Jose Menendez as the four panelists for a KSAT Community Town Hall on Oct. 6.
The virtual town hall will be from 2 p.m. - 3 p.m. Thursday and is open to the public. It will be moderated by KSAT Anchor/Reporter Courtney Friedman, in partnership with the CCDV. You can stream the event live on www.ksat.com or on your KSAT+ streaming app on your smart TV.
We also want to know what questions you have about the connection between domestic violence and mass shootings. Submit your questions here.