The Horrifying Truth About Most Shootings

A shooting this week in Mississippi - where a teacher at Delta State University allegedly shot and killed his live-in partner and another professor - has been called a shooting spree and a “love triangle”. What we haven’t really heard it called, however, is perhaps the most important descriptor: domestic violence.

Shannon Lamb, the alleged killer, is believed to have killed Amy Prentiss, the woman he lived with, and a colleague, professor Ethan Schmidt. Lamb was later found dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gun wound.

No matter what police eventually determine that the motive was, this is domestic violence. And until we start talking seriously about the intersection of gun violence and intimate partner violence, we will continue to watch as murders - many of them preventable - are perpetrated again and again.

Most women who are killed by their partners or ex-partners are murdered by men using guns. The rate of gun use in domestic violence murders is so high that women are more likely to be killed by a gun than all other types of murders combined. The same is true of mass shootings in the United States - most are domestic violence murders. When Huffington Post reporter Melissa Jeltsen looked at five years of mass shooting data, for example, she found that 57% of mass shootings involved the killer targeting a family member or partner and that 64% of victims were women and children.

Just this week, a Minnesota man reportedly killed his wife and three childrenusing a gun; still there was no mention of domestic violence in the press. Why are we so loathe to call this kind of violence what it is? Not doing so is not just incorrect, but dangerous. Domestic violence murders are often preventable because they follow a predictable pattern: we know what signs of abuse look like and we know that a woman’s chances of being killed by her partner increases significantly when he has access to a gun.

But when the media reports on these killings as standard shootings, or - as they do frequently - say that a killer “snapped”, they are sending the message that there is nothing that could have been done to stop these tragedies. It’s lazy thinking that allows us throw our hands up and do nothing, even when there is so much still to do.

We cannot passively shake our heads in sadness and disdain every time another person is killed by a gun, every time domestic violence takes another woman or child from us. We may never know if the killings in Mississippi could have been stopped, but we know what we can do to try to prevent future murders. We can limit access to guns, especially among those people who have restraining or protective orders against them. We can listen to domestic violence experts on signs to look out for among our family and friends. And at the very least - both to stop domestic violence homicides and to show the victims of these crimes a modicum of respect - we can call the crimes what they really are.

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