As news broke of yet another active shooter incident in San Bernardino, California on Monday morning, the story was initially covered as a school shooting, which carries it's own horrifying connotations. However, after initial word that two adults and one child were killed in the gunfire, it was revealed that this latest San Bernardino shooting was the product of domestic violence. And that part of the tragedy should be gaining more attention.
Karen Smith, a 53-year-old special education teacher at North Park Elementary School, was killed by her husband, Cedric Anderson, also 53, who she was looking to divorce after four months. While San Bernardino police said Anderson had domestic violence and weapons charges prior to marrying Smith, her mother also told the Los Angeles Times that "she left him and that’s where the trouble began.” It's not clear whether or not the previous charges had anything to do with Smith.
Unfortunately, Smith's story of leaving her partner and being killed by him isn't an outlier. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV):
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime,
- 72 percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partners and 94 percent of the victims of these murder suicides are women.
- 20% of victims in homicides were not the intimate partners themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders, according to a study of intimate partner homicides.
Also, as the Guardian reported back in 2014, up to 75 percent of women killed by their batterers are killed while trying to leave them. This indicates that the frequently-heard "just leave them" narrative, in addition to reductively misrepresenting the complex reasons people might stay in bad or abusive relationships, misdiagnoses the problem. Putting the onus of getting out of an abusive situation on victims rather than turning attention toward the abusers, their pathology and, of course, their access to weapons is not appropriate.
Given data (also from the NCADV) showing that "the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent," it's imperative that our gun control conversations always include major space for domestic violence survivors and advocates. This is particularly true when it comes to the effectiveness of background checks and ability for criminals to own weapons.
Smith's story and her tragic death should still absolutely serve as a wake-up call — urging us to look critically at the ways terrible, heartbreaking situations can escalate.