When I was younger, I thought the idea of two guys fighting over me was very Shakespearean and dreamy. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that fighting over a girl was just a concept that men have romanticized to excuse their toxic masculinity, violent tendencies and feelings of ownership over women. And no two guys have ever liked me at the same time, but that is beside the point. When violence and romance become entangled it is usually a bad sign.
Earlier this month, Nikolas Cruz used an AR – 15 to kill 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida. In retrospect, it is clear that authorities missed or ignored several warning signs regarding Cruz’s volatility, a common theme in the aftermath of these cases.
Cruz fit the profile of mass shooter. Young, white, male. However, he shares another commonality with the perpetrators of the attacks at Killeen, Texas in 1991, Virginia Tech in 2007, Pulse Nightclub in 2016, and both Sutherland Springs, Texas and Las Vegas in 2017: a history of violence and aggressive behavior against women. Cruz physically abused his ex-girlfriend and the ultimate catalyst of his high school expulsion was his fight with said girl’s new boyfriend. This desire for control over women — stalking, fighting other suitors, threatening — is not just a clue that physical abuse is likely to follow but also exemplifies the fragility that toxic masculinity fosters. A fragility that, if challenged, can morph into larger acts of violence.
In fact, if you look at the history of mass shootings — incidents in which four or more people are shot and killed — over the last 10 years, 54 percent of cases were related to domestic or family violence. Forty-two percent of shooters — almost all of whom are men — showed warning signs. And yet, under the law, just over one third of perpetrators of mass shootings were prohibited from owning a gun. It is this gap — the men who abused women and yet were not “domestic abusers” under the law — that perfectly illustrates the way in which the fears and concerns of women are so regularly devalued, even in life and death situations.
The link between aggression towards women and mass shooters seems obvious when looking at the histories of some of the most famous mass shootings in recent history. So where are the gaps in the law that allow these men to obtain guns legally?
Federal law prevents people convicted of domestic violence who live with, are married to or have children with their victims from purchasing guns. But “boyfriend loophole” that allows the convicted domestic abusers who don’t meet those criteria to continue to purchase weapons. In addition to all the ways men can bypass background checks by buying from unlicensed sellers, there is a huge gap in the law where men who have displayed a tendency that is a proven sign of further violence can still legally own guns. Some states, like Oregon, are working to close the boyfriend loophole.
Abusers who merely dated their victims can still have guns. Men convicted of misdemeanor stalking offences can still buy guns. In 35 states, people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes can still have guns. People who have had a restraining order placed against them can still have guns. In 40 states, prohibited domestic abusers are not required to relinquish guns they already own. Hear that guys? If you’re planning on hitting your girlfriend in the future, stock up on guns now!
This is important not just for preventing more mass shootings, but also protecting women’s lives. More than half of all murdered women in America are killed by an intimate partner or family member. Having a gun in the home increases the likelihood that a domestic abuse situation will become fatal by 500 percent.
I could come up with countless examples of women like Zina Daniel, Karen Smith and Phoukeo Dej-Odoum, all of whom had their reports of abuse and requests for protection denied, only to be shot and killed by their abusers. The shame and scrutiny applied to women who report their abusers, be it physical or sexual, is not only unavoidable but an incredible deterrent to reporting at all.
Women of color are about 50 percent more likely to experience domestic violence and yet are less likely to report. The rates of abuse also increase in low income communities and among those with less education. Women of color once again shouldering the scrutiny and doubtfulness of their validity that all women experience.
The pain, opinions and truths of women, especially women of color, are constantly taken less seriously than those of men, and I believe this to be partially to blame for the epidemic of shootings in America as of late. This is emblematic of the things we, and our legislators, need to consider in terms of gun reform. The solution to this — as well as practically every other problem — begins with trusting and supporting women. Unfortunately this is something that men everywhere — guidance counselors, college administrators, HR reps and law makers — seem grossly reticent to do.
Willow Hubsher is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. This is Not a Sex Column appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.