opinion

Mass killers, like the Texas shooter, often begin their violence at home | Ronnie Polaneczky

Ronnie Polaneczky, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Tuesday, November 7, 2017, 4:23 PM

Two women mourn at a makeshift memorial for the First Baptist Church shooting victims in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The day after Devin Patrick Kelley mowed down a church full of innocents, President Trump ordered the nation’s flags flown at half-staff to mourn the Texas victims. Trump’s order remains in effect until Thursday at sunset.

It’s a compassionate gesture. But you know what would have more heft? Lowering the flags every time someone is killed in an act of domestic violence.

According to research by Everytown for Gun Safety, an astounding 57 percent of mass shootings in the United States include victims who were a family member, spouse, or former spouse of the shooter. Those shooters often have a prior history of domestic violence.

That’s what investigators believe triggered Kelley’s massacre: an ongoing domestic issue that wasn’t getting resolved to his liking.

In the past, Kelley, a former Air Force enlistee, had hurt the women in his life. In 2012, he was court-martialed for beating his first wife and cracking the skull of his toddler stepson.

This time, instead of keeping the brutality within the confines of his family, which would have been horrific enough, Kelley decided to go big. In the act of killing his ex-grandmother-in-law, he also snuffed out 25 others, including a baby, at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

He wounded 20 more, 10 of them critically, before shooting himself in the head.

I’ve said it before about suicidal monsters like Kelley, and I’ll say it again: They need to shoot themselves first.

Lowering the flag every time we have a domestic-abuse fatality – more than four women die each day at the hands of a violent man, for example – would remind us how pervasive the brutality is.

And how perverse: Private punches like the ones Kelley once rained upon family members eventually can morph into the public slaughter of strangers.

Each time we lower the flag, we’d be reminded that as a society, we ignore domestic abuse at our own peril.

“Gloria Steinem once referred to domestic violence as ‘original violence,’ because violence in the home links directly to violence in the community,” says Jeannine Lisitski, executive director of Women Against Abuse.

“When children grow up witnessing abuse at home, they learn that violence is a valid way to vent anger and cope with fear. So it becomes the norm,” she says. “I’m not saying people have no choice in their behavior, but people are shaped by what they learn. And then they bring it into the broader world.”

Her organization is spearheading a groundbreaking initiative called Shared Safety that works with multiple city agencies to treat domestic violence as a public-health issue because of how it underpins and exacerbates community violence.

“We have to see domestic violence as a complicated problem with multiple causes and then treat it that way,” she says. “We can’t leave it up to the police to be our main intervention. By the time police intervene, it’s often after a horror has happened. We have to do the slow, hard work of addressing domestic violence systemically. It’s hard, hard work. But it’s the only way to turn this around.”

The first step is to notice the correlations between domestic violence and community violence, says Rob Spitzer, chair of the political science department at the State University of New York in Cortland and author of five books on gun policy.

“The vast majority of people who engage in domestic violence do not commit mass shootings,” he says, “but among mass shooters, a history of domestic violence is overwhelming. It’s accompanied by rage, and that’s the emotion that most motivates a shooting.”

As it did for mass murderer Omar Mateen, who in 2016 murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others as they danced in an Orlando gay club. Mateen was a known bully in his personal life. So was James Hodgkinson, who in June shot and critically injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others in a mass shooting at a Virginia ball field.

These were their most savage acts of violence. But not their original ones.

Those acts, the ones they built upon, started at home.

Ronnie Polaneczky, STAFF COLUMNIST

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