The man who used a military-style rifle to shoot and injure a sitting member of Congress, two police officers, a congressional aide, and a lobbyist on Wednesday morning was named James T. Hodgkinson.
Soon after this information was made public, journalists began the familiar task of puzzling out who he was and how he could do what he did. We learned that Hodgkinson was 66 years old. He was from Illinois and volunteered for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. He used Facebook to rage about taxes and Republicans, and was apparently the kind of person who shared memes about treason.
As I read each report, I searched them for two words: domestic violence. I do this because of a sentence I can recite for you from memory: Most mass shootings in this country are related to some kind of domestic or family violence. It is almost always there, somewhere in the shooter’s history. And it was again this time, as confirmed by the Daily Beast:
Hodgkinson also had a history of violence. In 2006, he was arrested for domestic battery and discharge of a firearm after he punched a man’s girlfriend “in the face with a closed fist,” according to a sheriff’s office report reviewed by The Daily Beast. When the man walked outside of the residence, Hodgkinson aimed a shotgun at him and later fired one round.
Hodgkinson was also “observed throwing” an unidentified minor “around the bedroom,” the report said. Police identified the girl as his daughter. After the girl broke free, Hodgkinson followed and “started hitting her arms, pulling her hair, and started grabbing her off the bed.”
When Hodgkinson’s girlfriend tried to leave in a vehicle, he reached inside and “turned off the ignition,” the report said. “James then pulled out a possible pocket knife and cut [her] seatbelt.”
The charges were dismissed, according to court records.
The charges were dismissed—this is common, it does not mean that no crime occurred—so there was no conviction and no possibility that Hodgkinson would lose his guns or be prevented from buying or owning something like an M4-style assault rifle.
But even if there had been a conviction, there are a lot of ways to beat a woman and keep your gun in the United States. We know this, and we do very little to change it. We could try to take guns away from domestic abusers, but, for the most part, we do nothing.
Under current federal law, people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence are only barred from owning guns if they are married to, have children with, or live with their victims. Dating partners who don’t meet any of these criteria are left out of the law entirely, and there are only ten states that have laws closing the loophole allowing a man convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to buy and own as many guns as he’d like because of a technicality about his relationship.
You might read this and think it is absurd or impossible. I spent months last year interviewing gun owners in different parts of the country and none of them—not one!—knew this was what the law allowed.
But lawmakers know, and so does the NRA. A bipartisan bill to close the loophole was introduced in the House two years ago and it still hasn’t received a hearing or a vote. In a comment to Fusion on the Senate version of the bill, NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen said in 2015: “This gun control bill exploits emotionally compelling issues such as domestic violence and stalking in an attempt to keep as many people as possible from exercising their Second Amendment rights.”
There are more gaps in the law. Like how without universal background checks, there is no guarantee that every sale or transfer is being run through the kind of database that would flag a purchaser with a domestic violence conviction.
Or how federal law does not lay out any kind of requirement for gun surrender in the event of a qualifying domestic violence conviction, and very few states and cities have come up with their own laws. In a bleak and concise analysis of the many ways our country’s gun policies fail victims of domestic violence, The Trace reported that in Rhode Island, a state that actually has a relinquishment policy, “judges ordered defendants to surrender their guns in only 5 percent of qualifying domestic violence cases between 2012 and 2014.”
Even in cases when a judge knew that the defendant had used or threatened to use a firearm, a surrender order was issued in just 13 percent of cases. It’s staggering, really.
Here is another sentence I can recite from memory: The involvement of a gun in a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by 500 percent. And another: Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other wealthy nations.
Here is a statistic I had to look up: According to an analysis from the pro-regulation group Everytown For Gun Safety, in at least 54 percent of mass shootings that occurred between 2009 and 2016, a current or former intimate partner or family member was shot by the perpetrator. The associated body count was 422 deaths, including 181 children.
We live in a country that lets domestic abusers keep their guns. We are a country that never learns its lesson, and we are letting them kill us.