Gun Crime And Domestic Violence: An American Affair

Yet another shooting plagued America this week, with three deaths being reported at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, California. On Monday, two adults and one student died in a murder-suicide shooting. Cedric Anderson, 53, entered the school premises and opened fire on his estranged wife, Karen Elaine Smith, killing her and 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez before taking his own life, further injuring another 9-year-old boy in the process. Whilst this may not typically be seen as a mass shooting, which is commonly defined as one resulting in four or more deaths, neither the severity of the incident, nor the issues implicated in the attack should be sidelined. Monday’s shooting sheds a harsh light on some already high profile problems in the US: the increasingly evident correlation between gun homicide and domestic abuse, the instability and contentious decentralization of federal gun law, and the selective nature of President Trump’s response to gun crime.

Domestic violence and gun crime appear to be inextricably linked issues in the United States. In analyzing the data of Everytown For Gun Safety regarding mass shootings (those resulting in four or more deaths) between 2009 and 2015, the Huffington Post found that over half, 57%, of these shootings targeted either a family member or intimate partner. Further, data compiled by the Associated Press detailed that almost 75% of the victims of domestic shootings between 2006 and 2014 were current wives or girlfriends of the perpetrator. Indeed, the Associated Press found that more than four of every five victims of gun homicides were women, thereby exposing the gendered nature of domestic shootings in the United States. An examination of the offenders of mass shootings is indicative of the interrelationship between gun violence and domestic abuse. For instance, Pulse nightclub shooter in Orlando, Omar Matten, in 2016, the Colorado attacker on Planned Parenthood, Robert Lewis Dear, in 2015, and John Houser, responsible for the cinema shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana in 2014, all had histories of domestic violence.

Although laws have been implemented in order to reduce and prevent domestic shootings, these have been countlessly problematized. Under federal law, convicted domestic abusers are unable to purchase firearms. On initial consideration, this may seem sufficiently preventative and progressive; however, gaps in the legislation render its existence disconcertingly futile. The loopholes are threefold. First, the law applies only to those abusing a married partner, thus disregarding any domestic relationship which falls outside the confines of a marital institution. Second, it poses minimal problem for those to whom the law applies to purchase firearms from sellers who do not require background checks such as on the internet, at gun shows, or through a private dealer, to name but a few examples. Equally dumbfounding is the ease at which the porous borders of the US states can be abused to obtain the desired weapon; while a convicted abuser could be prevented from buying a gun in California, should s/he cross the border to Nevada for the purchase, no crime would be committed. Last, and perhaps most dismaying, the domestic abuser is able to maintain their ownership of any previously purchased firearms. Seemingly, the scope for abusing the lacunae in this law is immense, perhaps serving as one indicator as to why gun homicide in the US continues to be extraordinarily high. In 2012, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that 60% of all murders in the US were by firearm, in comparison with 31% in Canada, 18% in Australia, and 10% in the UK.

With almost a week having passed since the shooting at North Park Elementary School, San Bernardino still awaits a public message of condolence from President Trump. The apathetic front currently being exhibited by the Twitter fiend who, on the day of the shooting, posted to congratulate Neil Gorsuch for his new position in the Supreme Court and then to wish his followers a happy Passover, is demonstrative of his selective and self-serving style of politics. Trump’s silence on San Bernardino provides a startling contrast with the verbose nature of his reaction to previous acts of violence in the city. In December 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 injured in a mass shooting which Trump used to his own end in the presidential campaign, launching a xenophobic vitriol in order to boost his own popularity. As opposed to using fear-mongering tactics imbued with racial discrimination to scapegoat “Others,” an investigation of “in-house” America would be significantly more productive, given the amount of criminal activity stemming from within the country itself. The hypocrisy with which the president is operating, and the fickle nature of his policing, causes grave concern surrounding the actualization of the much-needed divorcing of gun crime and domestic abuse.