In Texas, a familiar story: Gunman involved in mass shooting was abusive

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Spencer Hight shot nine people and killed eight at a football watch party in Plano, Texas on Sunday. The story is a familiar one: A woman left her abusive partner and he responded by killing her.

Hight was killed by a responding officer. Hight’s wife, Meredith Hight, told her mother that he was violent with her twice, according to the Dallas Morning News. She filed for divorce. After she left him, and only a few days before he shot her, he asked a friend, “How can the one person you’re supposed to love more than life itself end up being the one person you hate more than life itself?”

Her mother, Debbie Lane, told a local news station, WFAA, “I think he saw our comfort, ease and happiness and her embracing new life and resented it to the maximum and responded the way he did.”

Hight’s actions are not rare. Everytown Gun Safety, a group that advocates for gun control, looked at FBI data on mass shootings and found that from 2009 to 2016, 54.9 percent of incidents included victims who are the partner’s current partner, former partner, or family member. The overwhelming majority of mass shootings, which were defined by Everytown as incidents where four or more people are killed with a firearm, happened in the home. One in four of mass shooting fatalities involved children.

It isn’t a coincidence that Hight died after she left her husband. The worst violence occurs when the abuser has lost control of the victim. Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving their abuser than when they are still in the relationship.

Domestic violence victims are also five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun, research shows, and like the Plano shooting, there are often collateral victims. In many cases, these victims are new romantic partners of the abused person. A research article on collateral intimate partner homicide found that the most frequently reported collateral death was that of a new partner.

Laws have not caught up with the reality of intimate partner violence, experts say. Intimate partner homicides involve people who were just dating partners, but they are not well protected gun control laws. In one in four mass shootings between 2009 and 2014 involving former or current intimate partners, the partners were never married or never had a child together. However, dating partners are not covered by federal prohibitions that do not let those convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence purchase or possess a firearm, unless they have a child in common with the victim or were co-habitating. Some states are attempting to address federal loopholes with their own laws. In July, Washington became the first state to let victims of domestic violence know if their abuser tried to purchase a gun. The law was part of a broader bill that requires sellers to put information into a police database if someone fails a background check, as well as a notification system for victims of domestic violence or sexual violence who have court protections.

Even in mass shootings that don’t involve a shooter’s current or former intimate partner, the shooter often has a history of domestic violence. Across ideologies of mass shooters, history of violence against women is a common thread. James Alex Fields Jr., who rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last month, reportedly covered his mother’s mouth, hit her in the head, and threatened her in 2010 when she told him not to keep playing video games. In 2011, he allegedly stood behind his mother with a knife and spat at her. James T. Hodgkinson, who shot at Republican members of Congress during a Congressional baseball game in June, had a history of domestic disputes. Esteban Santiago, who opened fire in Fort Laurderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January, and killed five people, was was arrested last year for attacking his girlfriend. Omar Mateen, who opened fire on the Pulse nightclub last year and killed 49 people and wounded 58 others, reportedly beat his wife and held her hostage once. And the list goes on.

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