Other Voices

Focus on domestic violence can stop mass shootings

A procession of hearses pass along a country road to a graveside service for members of the Holcombe family who were killed in the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooting, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community Sunday, Nov. 5, killing more than two dozen.
A procession of hearses pass along a country road to a graveside service for members of the Holcombe family who were killed in the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooting, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community Sunday, Nov. 5, killing more than two dozen. AP

Each time we hear news of another mass shooting, conversation centers around limiting access to guns.

Addressing concerns about who has easy access to guns is important. But what if we also focus on another tactic?

The advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, analyzed mass shootings from 2009-2016 and concluded, “The majority of mass shootings in the U.S. are related to domestic violence.”

How many of the recent mass murders were by men with a record of domestic violence? Too many for this shared characteristic to be ignored.

In Tarrant County, one in three women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. For me, that statistic is personal after being in an abusive marriage for over 20 years.

In a small town in North Carolina that once had the highest rate of domestic violence in the state, police are addressing the problem head on by closely tracking their worst offenders.

Using a ‘focused deterrence’ program originally developed in Boston to address gang violence, officials quickly discovered these abusers were frequent flyers in the criminal justice system. High Point, NC, the first to pilot the program with domestic violence, adds offenders to a watch list followed by a warning that re-offense means their conviction with longer jail time is a priority.

A four-tier process was designed as a strategy to deal with first offenders differently than chronic abusers.

After a year, repeat offenses dropped to 9 percent compared to a high of 34 percent nationwide. Offenders’ treatment in the judicial system intensifies if they continue to abuse sending a clear message that High Point officials are determined to end domestic violence in their town.

Police departments in the Mid-Cities area, partnering with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, are piloting the High Point model with domestic abuse offenders to make an impact on this very serious issue.

But identifying the most violent domestic violence offenders is meaningless unless we enforce the gun laws we have and close any loopholes.

In 1996 Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, led Congress to pass what is referred to as the Lautenberg Amendment, making it illegal for someone convicted of even a misdemeanor domestic violence charge to possess or buy a gun.

But in reality, no system is in place to enforce this law.

Here’s how it plays out:

Judge: “You have been convicted of a domestic violence offense which means you are not allowed to own a gun. Do you own a gun or have access to a gun?”

Offender: “No, sir.”

Essentially this law hinges on the honesty of a convicted abuser, which creates a detrimental and undue risk of homicide for the victim.

Intimate partner violence victims are five times more likely to die if their abuser owns a firearm. Ideally, background checks should prevent offenders from buying weapons, but that’s not always the case.

Even though the Air Force failed to report Devin Kelley’s past domestic abuse conviction, which might have prevented the massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, he still would have been able to buy a gun in Texas as it is not one of the six states requiring background checks on all weapons sales including those at gun shows, over the Internet , and by private dealers.

As a board member of SafeHaven Tarrant County, I urge you to become active in helping to end intimate partner violence in our area.

Let’s enable and encourage our police departments to seriously address domestic violence now.

Together we can make our communities safer.

Tracy Rector is a board member of SafeHaven Tarrant County.

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