Nov 08

Domestic Violence Linked to Mass Shootings

 …(T)he majority of [mass] shootings occur in the home, between spouses, partners, and family members…Policymakers across the country should examine their state’s current laws, and address the gaps that make it too easy for dangerous individuals to arm themselves. This involves requiring background checks on all gun sales; ensuring that domestic abusers do not have access to firearms; and creating mechanisms that allow for the temporary removal of guns from individuals who have demonstrated a risk to themselves or others. Everytown for Gun Safety, “Mass Shootings in the United States: 2009-2016” (conclusion)

Increasingly, domestic violence is recognized by experts as significantly linked to many of the mass murders committed in the United States. The following are additional quotes from last year’s above-cited report, which emphasized certain points in bold type:

The majority of mass shootings in the U.S. are related to domestic or family violence. In at least 54 percent of mass shootings (85), the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.

The connection between mass shootings and domestic violence may be explained, in part, by the role guns play in domestic violence generally. About 4.5 million American women report that they have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun. And guns make it more likely that domestic abuse will turn fatal—when a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, the likelihood that a woman will be shot and killed increases fivefold.

The strongest state laws prohibit domestic abusers and stalkers from buying or possessing guns, require background checks for all gun sales, and create processes to ensure that abusers and stalkers relinquish guns already in their possession. When these laws are on the books and enforced properly, they save lives. For example, cities in states that restrict access to firearms for those under domestic violence protective orders see a 25 percent reduction in intimate partner gun deaths.

…(P)ublic health experts that study mass shootings and other acts of mass violence have identified certain dangerous behaviors that can serve as warning signs that an individual is a risk to themselves or others. These “red flags” include, but are not limited to recent acts, attempted acts, or threats of violence towards oneself or others; a violation of a protective order; or evidence of ongoing substance abuse.

In nearly half of mass shootings—42 percent of cases—the shooter exhibited at least one red flag prior to the shooting.

The vast majority of mass shootings—63 percent—took place entirely in private homes.

Below are a few strong excerpts from Nancy Leong‘s Chicago Tribune (June) article on this topic:

Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise domestic violence and mass shootings are correlated…(D)omestic violence is a form of violence, just one that we don’t always take as seriously as other kinds. People who are likely to act violently often start with those nearest to them, who are vulnerable due to proximity, and who are often financially, emotionally or legally dependent on their abuser.

The justice system also plays a role, treating domestic violence with less weight than “real” violence. Abusers are less likely to be incarcerated for a domestic violence incident than for an incident involving violence against someone other than a family member or an intimate partner, and are thus less likely to undergo the type of intensive rehabilitation that might deter violence in the future — either within or outside their family.

Despite research documenting a connection between domestic violence and mass shootings, we still don’t focus on domestic violence enough in the wake of such a shooting. A mass shooting tends to trigger passionate arguments about gun control and mental health services; discussion of how to respond to domestic violence often doesn’t even come up.

Feb 19

Gun Violence and Mental Illness: The True Relationship

“You know what the best predictor of future behavior is? Past behavior.” Therapist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), Side Effects

If the current debate about gun violence and gun control leads to increasing access to mental health services, I’m all for it. However, in the process we have to be very careful not to unfairly malign “the mentally ill”—or to overgeneralize about any designated group of people—regarding their propensity for violence. Just what is the true relationship between mental illness and gun violence?

In his post “Guns and Mental Health” psychiatrist Gordon Livingston reports the relevant statistics: “Of the total number of gun deaths in this country, around 30,000 a year, the majority are not the result of mental illness, but of ordinary human emotions like anger, hate, greed, and despair. In fact, about half of all shootings are suicides.”

Another voice on this subject is former mental health worker Darryl Cunningham, who wrote Psychiatric Tales: Eleven Graphic Stories About Mental Illness (2011). As he told Graphic Novel Reporter, mental illness and violence are not highly correlated—at least not in the way much of the public thinks:

If a person is not violent before they suffer a mental illness, let’s say schizophrenia, then they are unlikely to be violent when they have the illness. In fact, sufferers of illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are more likely to be the victims of violence than is the rest of the population. This is because they are odd, stand out because of their strangeness, and are feared because of it. The few notable cases where the mentally ill commit violence tend to get a lot of publicity, because of the sensational nature of the act, and this tends to make a powerful, and wrong, impression on the public.

Violence is more likely to occur, he notes, when substance abuse is involved. Addictions expert Adi Jaffe states, for example: “(A)lcohol is involved in more than 50% of violent crimes and about 75% of partner violence” (Psychology Today).

Illegal drugs are implicated as well, of course. And then there are the legal ones—including sleep aids, amphetamines used for ADD, and antidepressants—that have been too often linked to violence.

Still, why do some turn to violence while others don’t? Neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni points out in Scientific American that the mechanism that turns anger into violence is lack of cognitive control, or what we usually call self-control. Some people, for various reasons, don’t develop this adequately. Others may lose it under certain circumstances.

So how, then, do we go about identifying those most at risk for violent behavior, particularly the gun kind? It’s not easy, Dr. Livingston basically says:

The only real predictor of future violence in anyone turns out to be a past history of violent behavior. Absent this, professionals are little better than the average citizen at identifying those likely to harm others. Many people report violent fantasies (remember your reaction to the last person to cut you off in traffic); few act on them.

One thing we can predict? Gun violence will only occur where there are guns.