There was another mass shooting in the United States today, this time in Wisconsin.1 As always, it’s interesting to watch what kind of narrative will unfold when these events happen. As I noted a few weeks ago, there is an unfortunate pattern to how mass murderers are both treated by and portrayed in the media. If the murderer is white, firearms regulation panic will set in and the news cycle will be dominated by the insistence that we must do more to remove guns from the public sphere, combated by 2nd Amendment rights activists.
If the murderer isn’t white, whether or not it’s covered at all – at least outside of the shooting’s local media – depends on how slow a news day it is2 and the victims. And it rarely triggers the sort of panicked regulation talk that accompanies shootings perpetrated by white men.3 Instead, the reaction seems to be “dig for the reason.” Tonight, the police department in Brookfield gave that reason: oh, it was a domestic violence-related situation.
There we go – like clockwork, media sites are now running with this.4 Headlines show “Wife of spa shooting suspect had obtained restraining order,” “Suspect in fatal Wisconsin shooting had slashed wife’s tires: police,” “Wisconsin police: After domestic violence arrest, suspect kills 3 — and himself,” and so on.
Perhaps most tellingly, though, is that all emphasize that the President was briefed that this was not a case of domestic terrorism. Just domestic violence. To paraphrase Kate Harding, sure it’s not terrorism – unless, of course, you’re a woman thinking of leaving a man who is abusive.5
This dismissal of mass shooting as just domestic violence is a dangerous narrative. Not only does it function as a smokescreen to avoid a necessary dialog on mass killings, firearms violence, and firearms control, but it de-emphasizes and legitimizes violence against women.
Every nine seconds a woman in America is beaten6. The leading cause of injury to women? Not rape, not muggings, not car accidents, but domestic violence.7 Nearly 40 percent of women seeking care in an emergency department are there because of domestic abuse.8 More than three women a day in the United States are killed by an intimate partner.9 In 2007, the last year the FBI has data,10 1,640 women were killed by their partner.
Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after they leave a situation of domestic violence than any other time.11
If this isn’t a systemic use of terror as a means of coercion, then I’m not sure what is.
I would welcome a continued and sustained debate about firearms violence in the United States. Likewise, I would welcome a serious and sustained public debate about domestic violence. Both of these issues are serious public health concerns, and should be engaged at a level that does not fade when the news cycle rotates. What I do not welcome is what the narrative is once again devolving in to: the dismissal of violence based on circumstance, relationship, and ethnicity.
- Again, some might note. The Sikh temple shooting in August was about 40 minutes from Brookfield, Wisconsin, in Oak Grove. [↩]
- Clearly, today was a slow news day. [↩]
- I’d very much like to be proven wrong on this, by the way. If you can find media coverage – especially historical – that shows otherwise, please do pass it along. [↩]
- Kudos to Reuters for not only not doing this, but also including a similar shooting in the Orlando, Florida area earlier this week. [↩]
- I did contemplate rephrasing this to be gender neutral, because when you want to discuss people left out of a conversation, men who are abused – especially by women – are frequently ignored. So I want to take the moment to acknowledge men are quite certainly abused by women – but to also note that men are significantly less likely to be killed by their abuser. For statistics about men and domestic violence, please read this CDC press release. [↩]
- http://www.cfvc.org/Statistics.aspx [↩]
- http://domesticviolencestatistics.org/domestic-violence-statistics/ [↩]
- Rand, M. Department of Justice. Violence related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments. Bureau of Justice Statistics. August 1997. [↩]
- http://domesticviolencestatistics.org/domestic-violence-statistics [↩]
- http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/fvv.pdf [↩]
- http://www.dvipiowa.org/myths.htm. [↩]