Justice

The San Bernardino School Shooting Shows the Reality of Domestic Violence

The tragic story of a murder-suicide led to a broader conversation about domestic violence. On Monday morning, Cedric Anderson walked into a classroom in San Bernardino, shot and killed his estranged wife Karen Elaine Smith and then killed himself, according to CNN.

Anderson also hit two children, one of whom died later at the hospital. The two students were standing behind Smith when they were shot. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said that Anderson and Smith had been married for only a short time before they separated. 

"I'm told that their marriage was relatively short. They've only been married for a few months and they've been separated for about the last month, month-and-a-half, roughly, when this incident took place," he told CNN. "But there's nobody that in the investigation has come forward to say that they saw this coming."

Smiths' mother Irma Sykes, said that after Smith and Anderson were married, he changed. 

“She thought she had a wonderful husband, but she found out he was not wonderful at all,” Smith’s mother told the Los Angeles Times. “He had other motives. She left him and that’s where the trouble began."

The American Psychological Association says that 74 percent of murder-suicides involved an intimate partner, and 96 percent of the victims who were killed were women. A report by the Center for American Progress said that 55 percent of the women killed by their partners from 2001 to 2012 were killed with guns. 

The San Bernardino school shooting started a conversation about domestic violence on Twitter. 

Although the investigation is ongoing, and we don't know if Anderson had a previous history of domestic violence with Smith, the shooting sparked a conversation about domestic abuse and guns. CNN reported that Anderson had two restraining orders filed against him from other women, and in 2013 he faced charges of brandishing a weapon, but those charges were later dismissed.

ATTN: talked to Ruth Glenn, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, about intimate partner killings. 

Glenn said that one of the most dangerous times for victims is the time surrounding the end of a relationship. A physically or emotionally abusive partner can become more agitated as they lose power over the victim. 

"They escalate because they no longer have control over that person, particularly if that person has set some really clear boundaries or moved," said Glenn. "They're losing power and losing control and they become more lethal because of it." 

The real risk of physical harm after a break up is an obstacle that can keep women in abusive relationships. 

"Victims need to assess their own safety," said Glenn. "We often tell victims, 'well you should just leave.' Well, there may be barriers such as guns in the home or their children may be at risk."

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She advised anyone trying to leave an abusive relationship to reach out to local domestic violence programs and, if possible and necessary, contact family in another state to get away from the abuser. If the abuser has access to firearms, Glenn cautioned that it's "absolutely very critical" that victims seek help with "safety in mind." 

Guns can play a central role in domestic violence, even if they're never fired. A University of Pennsylvania study found that 4.5 million women living in the U.S. have been coerced or threatened with a gun by their partner. Glenn said it's important that lawmakers close loopholes — like the "boyfriend loophole" — that allow domestic abusers to own guns and enforce more thorough background checks that flag abusers with previous domestic violence convictions.

"The risk to others is also of concern," she said. "When they reach a state where they're this lethal, it really is dangerous for anyone around them as well."

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