Plenty of news outlets covered the story of John Houser opening fire in a movie theater on July 23 in Lafayette, La., about 20 minutes into a showing of Trainwreck. He killed two women and wounded nine others. And while many news outlets immediately started talking gun control, not many focused much on Houser’s history of domestic violence or asked why he chose to shoot patrons of Amy Schumer’s modern rom-com.
In one opinion piece, Slate writer Amanda Marcotte questioned whether Houser’s choice of movie was coincidence or “an act of rage on women.” She quoted Calvin Floyd, a former talk show host, who’d previously had Houser on his program several times, as saying, “[Houser] had an issue with feminine rights.”
In 2008, Houser’s wife, Kellie, and daughter filed for an order of protection against Houser after he allegedly committed “acts of family violence” and threatened the two of them, according to CBS News. At the time, Kellie reportedly was so scared of him she removed all guns and weapons from the home for fear he would kill her. Houser and Kellie separated in 2012 and were divorced four months before Houser opened fire in the Louisiana movie theater.
We may never know what Houser’s motives were on July 23, but it’s worth contemplating the connection between Houser’s previous treatment of women and his act of domestic terror. Is it possible that we, as a society, have the blinders on?
“It’s a tough question and I don’t know the answer to it,” says Tod W. Burke, Ph.D., associate dean and professor of criminal justice in the College of Humanities & Behavioral Sciences at Radford University and a former Maryland police officer. “We often focus on celebrated cases, but with the number of women being murdered each year by men [approximately 1,700 annually as a result of intimate partner violence], we’re obviously focusing on the wrong things.
Statistics show that when an abusive partner has access to a gun, the risk of homicide for women increases by a stunning 500 percent. Furthermore, of the women murdered as a result of gun violence, more than 50 percent are killed by an intimate partner or family member.
“We need to look at the bigger picture,” says Burke. “We need to look at domestic violence initially and gun violence secondarily. There are other means of committing violence than with a gun. When a person is shot by an intimate partner, it’s rarely the first incidence of violence.
What’s important, say advocates, is keeping guns out of the hands of domestic violence criminals. In states where background checks are required for every handgun sale, the Department of Justice reports 38 percent fewer women are shot by intimate partners.
“I think it will take things like this piece to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence and gun violence,” Burke says. “It’s a matter of community awareness and media awareness. This is a very complicated societal issue. It’s not a personal problem or a law enforcement problem. It’s a community problem.”
You can help change the conversation. Start by reading “How to Speak Out on Domestic Violence.”
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