The Sutherland Springs Shooting Shows It's Way Past Time To Talk About Guns & Domestic Violence

By now, it’s been made incredibly clear that America has an issue with guns and mass shootings. Yet again, a group of innocent people has been murdered by a man with a gun he should have never been able to own.

Devin Kelley was a 26-year-old man who never should have been able to purchase a gun—either morally or legally. Despite this, he attacked the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church on November 5, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and two pistols, and killed 26 people. 

One of the most salient parts of this mass shooting is the fact that he was a known domestic abuser. Kelley had a history of violence and, regardless of gun control politics, he never should've been given access to guns, let alone semi-automatic weapons. Ever. 

A former member of the Air Force, Kelley was released and given a discharge for "bad conduct" in 2014 because he assaulted his ex-wife and stepson in 2012, reportedly breaking his step son's skull. He  was sentenced a month’s confinement and a demotion in rank and, that same year, he escaped a mental health clinic and tried to smuggle weapons onto the military base in order to “carry out death threats” he had made.

However, as it was later reported, the Air Force never added his domestic violence offense to the National Criminal Information Center database. This massive oversight on their part is believed to be what allowed him to purchase a gun (as people convicted of domestic abuse are prohibited from buying guns following the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment, but there are often loopholes that allow offenders to slip through the cracks).

In the US, over half of all mass shootings involved an abuser killing an intimate partner or family members. Kelley’s mother-in-law attended the church he targeted, and before the shooting, he reportedly sent her threatening messages via text and it's speculated that he was hoping she would be present in the church when he attacked.

Domestic abusers should not have guns in their possession, and Kelley is no exception. He pled guilty to the charges of domestic violence, and that in and of itself should have kept him from owning a gun. However, as Think Progress noted in 2014 there are often still loopholes (on the state and federal level) that allow abusers to access firearms.

According to research from Everytown For Gun Safety, a sensible gun-control non-profit that researches gun violence, women in domestic violence situations are 5 times as likely to be killed if there is a gun involved than if not. Women in the US are 16 times as likely to be killed by a gun than women in other developed countries; when it comes to gun violence against women, the USA is the most dangerous place for a woman to live in the developed world. currently shows that 378 mass shootings have occurred in the US in 2017, defining a mass shooting as one in which four or more people were shot. This means that there have been more mass shootings in the past 10 months and a few days than there have been days. That’s more than one mass shooting per day.

Considering 54 percent of all mass shootings reportedly involve domestic abusers, imagine the impact we'd see on that deeply unsettling number if there was a more thoughtful, lasting commitment to keeping these dangerous weapons away from dangerous, abusive people. 

By now, it’s unacceptable to call tragedies like this unavoidable, because they’re not unavoidable. They are absolutely avoidable and Americans can no longer afford to be complicit in these crimes by doing nothing. Refusing to do anything means that nothing will change, and people will continue dying.

Particularly following the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, it's time for Americans to think critically about the overlap of histories of domestic violence and mass shootings and to consider solutions that actively address the intersections of those problems. Thorough background checks need to occur, domestic violence charges need to keep guns out of the hands of abusers and the national databases need to be updated regularly and implemented effectively. Lives clearly depend on that.