Mass Shootings and Domestic Violence
For my research paper, I decided to study the link between domestic violence and the five deadliest mass shootings that have occurred in the United States. Mass shootings seem to be at an all-time high over the past few years, and people are starting to see a pattern develop among the perpetrators: most have a history of domestic violence or violence toward women in general. The cases I studied, in descending order are: the Texas Church shooting on November 5, 2017, Sandy Hook shooting on December 14, 2012, Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007, Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, and the Las Vegas shooting on October 1, 2017. These cases proved to be the five deadliest mass shootings in American history, taking the lives of 193 people and injuring over 775 more combined.
My research question is this: I want to know if there is a correlation between domestic violence and/or violent/predatory behavior toward women and the occurrence of large-scale mass shootings in the United States. I also want to know what other similarities among perpetrators of large-scale mass shootings can be identified. Surprisingly, there were not many articles that have asked this question. Most of the articles I found dealt mostly with domestic violence in general, the motivations and tactics of offenders, and why law enforcement has yet to take the offences seriously. What I found gave me some insight into the minds and thoughts of these men, and why they chose to escalate their violence, and how they can get away with domestic violence for so long. These articles add to my findings of the importance of proper sentencing for domestic violence offenders.
My population includes anything related to each of these five shootings and the people involved. I used purposive sampling in my research to obtain data related to the prevalence of domestic violence among the perpetrators of these mass shootings. I also found peer-reviewed articles of previous studies on domestic violence and utilized content analysis to determine which articles relates to my research. Finally, I coded the data found to find which themes stood out from the data.
II. THEORY AND LITERATURE REVIEW
There are two sociological theories of deviance and crime that I believe relate to these five cases. Rational Choice Theory, developed by Cesare Beccaria, implies that criminals choose to commit crime, because they believe that the benefits for committing the crime far outweigh the consequences of doing so. Another theory, developed by Robert Merton, suggests that people react one of five ways to strain. The first of these ways is through conforming to the pursuance of cultural goals by socially acceptable means “ graduating from college to find a job for example. The second is through innovating an unconventional means of obtaining the goal. Examples of this include selling drugs or committing robberies to obtain their goals. The third is through ritualism, which includes rejecting the goals of society but choosing to follow them anyway. Retreatism is a way of rejecting the cultural goals and the means to obtain them. And finally, rebellion involved rejecting the goals and finding a way to replace them with a different goal. This theory is known as Strain Theory. Both of these sociological theories hold true for these five cases.
Bond, Christine and Samantha Jeffries 2014. Similar Punishment? Comparing Sentencing Outcomes in Domestic and Non-Domestic Violence Cases. The British Journal of Criminology, 54(5): 849“872.
In their article, Bond and Jeffries discuss the difference in sentencing decisions for domestic violence offenders and non-domestic violence offenders. They found that domestic violence offenders were more likely to be awarded probation rather than incarceration, while non-domestic violent offenders were more likely to be incarcerated. Overall, domestic violence offenders were treated less harshly than the others. They found this was due to the acceptance of domestic violence myths and stereotypes. Also, victims of the domestic violence offender are more likely to be revictimized by the offender, but victims of the non-domestic violent offender are less likely to be revictimized. When the criminal justice system does not treat domestic violence as a serious crime, they unwittingly embolden the perpetrators of domestic violence to continue their abuse, and even escalate it. They do so because their goal, which is to maintain power and control over their victim, is easily achievable because consequences are practically nonexistent.
Epstein, Deborah. 1999. Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence Cases: Rethinking the Roles of Prosecutors, Judges, and the Court System. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 11: 3“339.
Epstein addresses the hostility that judges and court clerks have toward victims of domestic abuse because they do not understand why the women choose to stay in these relationships. She also explains the effect that these attitudes have on the victims. She advocates for judicial neutrality by suggesting that judges and court clerks be educated about what domestically abused women go through, and why they often choose to stay in these relationships. When the criminal justice system cannot understand the motives of the women who choose to drop charges against their abusers or not report it at all, they are of no help to the victims. There are several reasons why women stay in these relationships, but it is never because they want to live under the control of their partner. Generally, it is because they fear for the safety of their children, family, and themselves. The first few months after a woman leaves her abuser is the most dangerous time for her. At this point, the abuser does not have anything left to lose, so they often escalate their violence toward their victims. This is why it is imperative that those who work in the criminal justice system are educated about these issues, so they can properly deal with the abuser to possibly save the life of the victim.
Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. 2017. Mass Shootings in the United States: 2009-2016. Retrieved from https://everytownresearch.org/reports/mass-shootings-analysis/#foot_note_6
In their study of mass shootings in the United States from the years 2009-2016, the author(s) found that there were 156 mass shootings, in which 54 percent of cases were domestic or family violence related. They also found that in 42 percent of cases, there were clear warning signs before the event. Most of these shootings, which include both large-scale and small-scale mass shootings, occurred within a home, rather than in public. In 54 percent of cases, the victims of the domestic violence inflicted by the perpetrator were one of the victims of the mass shootings, and 40 percent were children. Finally, most of the perpetrators ended up ending their own lives.
Fradella, Henry F. and Ryan G. Fischer. 2010. Factors Impacting Sentence Severity of Intimate Partner Violence Offenders and Justification for the Types of Sentences Imposed by Mock Judges. Law and Psychology Review, 34:25.
Fradella and Fischer conducted a study to see how judges perceived domestic violence offenders and victims, and how those perceptions influenced the sentencing outcome. They found that female participants took the sentencing more seriously than the male participants. Male participants justified a more lenient sentence because his son needed his father at home. They go on to describe the cycle of violence and how this justification is potentially placing future people at risk for being victims of domestic violence. They also expressed the importance of education for judges of the consequences that domestic violence has on the victims, finding that those who were given education on the matter beforehand were more likely to be more concerned for the victim and child. This is another example of why education for those in the criminal justice system is so important on these matters.
Johnson, Margaret E. 2007. Redefining Harm, Reimagining Remedies, and Reclaiming Domestic Violence Law. U.C. Davis Law Review, 42(4): 1107“1164.
Johnson looks into the effects of civil protection orders (CPOs) have on the likelihood of the perpetrators reoffending. She also advocates for programs to help women who have been abused by their partners, both with their physical abuse and the psychological abuse they have endured. She states that the latter is generally more painful for the women than the actual physical abuse. Typically, batterers will begin psychologically abusing their partners long before they ever lay a hand on them, and once the psychological abuse begins, it eventually leads to physical abuse. She also confronts the narrow definitions of domestic violence in CPO laws, and how they have encouraged myths about domestic violence and the victims.
Holt, Victoria L., Mary A. Kernic, Marsha E. Wolf, and Frederick P. Rivara. 2003. Do Protection Orders Affect the Likelihood of Future Partner Violence and Injury? American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 24(1): 16-21.
Holt et al conducted a study to try to determine if women who were domestically abused had a protection order filed, would it affect the likelihood of future domestic violence. They found that those who obtained a civil protection order (CPO) had a decreased risk of contact, weapon threats, injury, and abuse related medical care between the interviews conducted. If they maintained the CPO, there was a greater decrease in risk.
Kern, Rosalic, Terry M. Libkuman, and Stacey L. Temple. 2007. Perceptions of Domestic Violence and Mock Jurors’ Sentencing Decisions. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(12): 1515“1535.
Kern et al conducted a study to determine what jurors took into consideration when considering sentencing domestic violence offenders. They found that when a victim was thought to be provoking, the jury assigned more blame to the victim rather than the perpetrator. They also found that shelter workers who came in contact with victims who were hopeful that the abuse would stop, would react less favorably toward the woman. Also, they found that those who believe in a just world would assign more blame to the victim. This article explains some of the reasons why domestic violence is yet to be taken seriously by the criminal justice system. Law enforcement see many situations where the victim may have had it coming, and they assign the same mentality to domestic violence victims. Any way they can assign some of the blame to the victim will make them feel better about the lenient treatment of offenders. This parallels to victims of rape. Many assign blame to victims when they were intoxicated or dressed provocatively; however, rarely is the blame completely on the perpetrator who committed the crime. Instead, women are taught to protect themselves from these criminals rather than men being taught to not rape someone. It is the same way with domestic violence, and often, the repercussions are much higher.
Holtzworth-Munroe, Amy. 2000. A Typology of Men Who are Violent Toward Their Female Partners: Making Sense of the Heterogeneity in Husband Violence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(4): 140-143.
Holtzworth-Munroe found that batterer subtypes were described by three factors: (1) severity and frequency of marital violence, (2) generality of violence, and (3) the batterer’s psychopathology or personality disorders. Four batterer subtypes emerged: family-only batterers, dysphoric-borderline, generally violence-antisocial, and low-level antisocial batterers. She described what the three factors were for each of the batterer subtypes. This gives some insight into why these men choose to be violent toward their partners, and what some of the warning signs are.
Olson, David E., and Loretta J. Stalans. (2001). Violent Offenders on Probation: Profile, Sentence, and Outcome Differences Among Domestic Violence and Other Violent Probationers. Violence against Women, 7(10): 1164.
In their article, Olson and Stalans take a look at the characteristics of domestic violence offenders to see if they have any bearing on their compliance with probation rules, and also if they have similar profiles and rates of recidivism to other violent offenders. They found that domestic violence offenders were more likely to receive more lenient sentences than other violent offenders, whether the sentence be incarceration or probation. They also found that violent offenders who were ordered to treatment and probation were five times more likely to recidivate. This shows how ineffective probation is for offenders of domestic violence, and why harsher approaches to punishment are needed.
Randall, Melanie. 2004. Domestic Violence and the Construction of Ideal Victims : Assaulted Women’s Image Problems in Law. Saint Louis University Public Law Review, 23(107): 107-250.
Randall explains how domestic violence turns into a hostage-like situation for the victims. The perpetrators have exercised a pattern of coercive control to keep their victims within their grasp. She hopes that by talking about this coercive control aspect of domestic violence, that people can finally move away from the why did she stay questions and focus more on how it links to sexual inequality. If those in the criminal justice system were educated about domestic violence, they would take reports of it more seriously, and understand why some women stay in these relationships and choose not to report them. This also sheds some light on the actions of the wife of Omar Mateen, who carried out a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. She accompanied him on his stakeouts of the club, and knew of his plans, but she never reported him. This exemplifies the extent of power and control that these perpetrators can have over their victims.
III. DATA COLLECTION METHODS AND SAMPLE DESCRIPTION
For my case studies regarding the relationship between domestic violence or violence/predatory behavior towards women and mass shootings, I used content analysis of existing data compiled from various sources on the occurrence of domestic violence and the mild attempts from the criminal justice system to deal with perpetrators of domestic violence. This laxed approach to the seriousness of domestic violence plays a large role in emboldening perpetrators, even to the point of an escalation of violence that puts an entire community at risk. As each of these case studies point out, large-scale mass shootings are typically perpetrated by those who have a history of domestic violence, or at the very least, have exhibited violent or predatory behavior towards women. Mass shootings are generally defined as a shooting that takes place in a single location, which kills or injures three or more people, not including the perpetrator (Everytown for Gun Safety, 2017).
I chose to focus only on large-scale mass shootings, such as those that draw national media attention, because it exemplifies more appropriately what is potentially at stake when domestic violence is not taken care of properly by authorities. I also chose the five deadliest mass shootings in United States history because I knew there would be sufficient information about the lives of the perpetrators. The cases I studied, in descending order are: the Texas Church shooting on November 5, 2017, Sandy Hook shooting on December 14, 2012, Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007, Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, and the Las Vegas shooting on October 1, 2017. The data that I found was through convenience, purposive, and snowball sampling by finding sources within my sources.
IV. DATA ANALYSIS, THEMES, AND FINDINGS
I used open and focused coding to find the themes that surfaced from the lives of each person who perpetrated these large-scale mass shootings. I did so by finding sources that reported on the lives and behaviors of the perpetrators as well as those that included interviews of friends and family that knew them best and marked the themes that arose. I printed the articles and then read through them twice to search for any common themes among the perpetrators. Several consistencies emerged with each case that directly relate to my research question: I want to know if there is a correlation between domestic violence or violent/predatory behavior toward women and the occurrence of mass shootings in the United States, and what other similarities among perpetrators of large-scale mass shootings can be identified? These themes are: sudden change in behavior, mental instability, high family income, and domestic violence and/or violence/predatory behavior towards women.
A. SUMMARY OF CASES
Devin Patrick Kelley “ Sutherland Springs Church Shooting in Texas on November 5, 2017
On November 5, 2017, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley took the lives of 26 people and injuring 20 more in a rural church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Kelley had a lengthy history with the criminal justice system, largely due to domestic violence, and was also investigated for animal cruelty and twice for rape and sexual assault (Blinder et al, 2017). He was discharged from the military with a bad conduct discharge due to the assault on his wife at the time, and her child, whom he almost killed in the attack. He received twelve months confinement and a reduction in rank for his actions. This conviction should have prevented him from obtaining any weapons; however, the Air Force failed to properly report his status (Blinder et al, 2017). Three years later, he walked into Sutherland Springs Church and opened fire on the members of the congregation. His motives seemed unclear at the time, but after more digging, investigators found that he had threatened his ex-wife that he would kill her and her family. Her mother and grandparents were members of the congregation. Her grandmother was killed in the shooting; however, her mother, whom investigators believe he was mainly targeting, was absent that day. After the shooting, Kelley fled the scene while two members of the community chased him down. After wrecking his car, Kelley put a gun to his head and ended his life.
Adam Lanza “ Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting on December 14, 2012
Adam Lanza, 20, was a quiet and socially awkward young man. He was obsessed with mass shootings and was a member of a mass killer website. His motives for the shooting came from a paranoia that society was trying to manipulate him into following an immoral value system that led millions to both mental and physical sickness (Lysiak, 2014).