On Wednesday morning, a gunman in Alexandria, Virginia, opened fire on a GOP congressional baseball practice, injuring five people including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who is reportedly in critical condition. While law enforcement has yet to speak on details regarding the suspect, many have pointed to his 2006 arrest for domestic battery, reigniting a debate about whether a common theme in mass shootings can be the perpetrators' history of domestic violence.
It's an observation that caught fire on social media in the hours following the attack, as the alleged gunman's identity was revealed. The 66-year-old suspect, according to The Daily Beast, had an alleged history of personal violence, including against members of his own family.
In 2006, he was reportedly arrested for striking a woman and aiming a shotgun at her boyfriend. Reports also say that he struck a child, identified by law enforcement authorities as his daughter. The charges stemming from this incident were dropped at the time, but the facts of the arrest have led many observers to revisit a striking commonality many mass shooters seem to share ― a history of domestic violence.
It's not the first time this link has been made. Over the past several years, there have been a slew of mass shooters who've been revealed as domestic abusers (also, it must be noted, mass shootings are overwhelmingly and almost entirely committed by men).
For instance, the apprehended suspect in a recent Mississippi spree shooting, allegedly killed eight people in a rampage that spawned from a domestic violence incident.
The same was true of the gunman who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year. Even though he had other stated political motives that drew far more attention and coverage, having declared his allegiance to ISIS, he too was accused by his wife of routine physical abuse, flying into rages and assaulting her.
Another prominent example was an anti-abortion extremist's 2015 attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. He was initially described by The New York Times as a "gentle loner who occasionally unleashed violent acts towards neighbors and women he knew."
As a 2015 study by gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety found that, while these are just a handful of examples, the correlation is observable on a bigger scale. According to its analysis, 54 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2015 ― defined as shootings which killed four or more people ― included a victim who was a past or present intimate partner or family member of the shooter.
While correlation and causation are wholly different things, common sense submits that assaulting and brutalizing those close to you speaks to a general willingness and capacity to inflict violence. There's a compelling case that domestic violence can be viewed as a warning sign for future incidents of violence, and identifying these commonalities in how people treat those closest to them is crucial.