These Tweets Reveal What's Missing in the Conversation About Mass Shooters

June 14th 2017

Almie Rose

Details about James T. Hodgkinson, the shooter who opened fire at a GOP congressional baseball practice in Virginia on Wednesday, reveal a troubling past that's not uncommon for mass shooters: a history of domestic violence.

Hodgkinson shot five people on Wednesday, including Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, who is currently recovering in a hospital, The Chicago Tribune reports. Along with other media outlets, they are also reporting that Hodgkinson was arrested in 2006 on "suspicion of battery, domestic battery, criminal damage of property and reckless discharge of a firearm."

These tweets expose how this revelation further solidifies the link between domestic violence and mass shooters.

Psychology Today explored this connection in May 2016: "Violence against women is intimately connected with mass shootings."

Azadeh Aalai, an assistant professor of psychology at Queensborough Community College in New York, wrote for Psychology Today that, "An often overlooked link regarding mass shootings, whether private or public (a mass shooting is defined as a violent act where there are at least four fatalities—it need not be a public act per se to meet this standard) has to do with incidents of domestic violence."

Aalai pointed to a 2014 analysis, "Guns & Violence Against Women." She noted: 

"The astonishing link between partner violence and mass shootings is that in a staggering 57 percent of mass shooting between 2009-2014, 'the perpetrator had killed an intimate partner or family member' .... Moreover, oftentimes the killing of a partner can become a catalyst for even greater public acts of violence, such as random shootings—which was the case with the shooting spree that occurred this week in Maryland."

(Aalai was, at the time, referring to the Westfield Montgomery Mall shootings, in which two people were killed and two were injured. The suspect, Eulalio Tordil, was accused of shooting and killing his estranged wife before his rampage at the mall.)

"[T]ackling domestic violence would serve to not only prevent partners from becoming victims (which is significant enough)," Aalai wrote, "but it could also more generally help curb mass shootings that have eluded scholars and policy makers regarding prevention (particularly in the wake of our loose gun laws and a lack of political will to change loopholes that are often directly implicated in procuring the weapons that perpetrators use for their atrocities)."

Hodgkinson was indeed charged with domestic violence—but his case was dismissed.

ABC 7 Chicago reports that, in 2006, Hodgkinson faced "charges for Battery/Cause Bodily Harm (2 counts)." That same year, he faced charges for "Aid/Abet damage to Motor Vehicle"—another Class A misdemeanor—also dismissed.

That has led people to wonder what would happen if we took domestic violence charges more seriously.

As Michael Luo wrote for The New York Times in 2013, "Advocates for domestic violence victims have long called for stricter laws governing firearms and protective orders. Their argument is rooted in a grim statistic: when women die at the hand of an intimate partner, that hand is more often than not holding a gun."