Reducing Mass Shootings by Recognizing Red Flags

By Diane Dimond

April 27, 2019 6 min read

Want to reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States? Then let's ramp up efforts to stop domestic abuse.

Just as a red flag is raised when a child tortures animals, often a precursor to later criminal behavior, there is plenty of evidence that mass shooters display red-flag behaviors, like aggression and violence against women and children, before they ever pick up a gun and start hunting fellow human beings.

Oh, I know domestic abuse is a topic people don't like to talk about. And when they do, they often conclude it's a private matter or a "woman's issue." It happens behind closed doors. It's their business. We shouldn't interfere. Wrong, wrong, wrong. In case study after case study we see that those who beat and otherwise terrorize their families (some of the aggressors are women) then direct their unresolved anger at perfect strangers. It's a flaming red flag that we should no longer look past.

The Everytown for Gun Safety group analyzed nine years' worth of data on mass shootings in the U.S. and discovered that in 54% of the cases, the shooter shot an intimate partner or relative. Innocent bystanders were considered collateral damage. Case in point: Devin Patrick Kelley, who walked into a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church in 2017 with guns blazing and murdered 26 people, then committing suicide. He was said to be boiling mad at his mother-in-law. She was not there that morning. The military had court-martialed Kelley for domestic abuse but failed to enter his conviction into the national database, which would have prohibited him from having a firearm.

Sometimes the pent-up rage stemming from home-life discord is directed at total strangers, and it is often associated with some perceived slight or controversial issue. Omar Mateen's wife said that he beat and dominated her until she escaped his clutches. In 2016, his simmering fury spilled out onto gay people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. He fatally shot 49 people and wounded 58 others.

Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland, Florida, high school shooter, had reportedly broken up with a girlfriend, threatened her new boyfriend and stalked a female student. He returned with guns to his former high school last year, killed 17 people and injured another 17.

In Newton, Kansas, in February 2016, Cedric Ford had just been served with a restraining order filed by his ex-girlfriend when he inexplicably shot three people fatally and wound 14 others at his workplace.

James Hodgkinson from Belleville, Illinois, had an obvious problem with females and a violent temper. He'd been arrested for choking a foster child and dragging her by the hair, as well as punching a woman in the face. In June 2017, he drove to the Washington, D.C., area and opened fire on a congressional baseball practice field, shooting four people including Congressman Steve Scalise, who nearly died. See a pattern here?

Of course, this is not to say all domestic abusers will go on to commit a mass shooting, but there is no denying this is a nationwide public health issue. The crime of abuse may happen behind closed doors, but it can instill a seething sense of anger in the perpetrator that then spills out into society.

And, yes (before you start writing me an email), I concede guns are another common denominator in these horrible events. But trillions of words have already been written about more gun control laws, and not enough have been written about the obvious problems associated with domestic abuse. The time is long past for us to start openly talking about how to treat family abusers. Do we dole out harsher prison sentences, insist on mandatory, long-term anger management classes for the abuser, or fund more programs to help women find the strength to walk away? And what more can be done to help children caught up in the adult dysfunction?

I recently spoke to Jan Langbein about this issue. She is the CEO of the extraordinarily successful Genesis Women's Shelter in Dallas. Her group is dedicated to the idea that we simply should not accept a world where women feel unsafe in their own home. Period. Langbein mentioned the tragic 2016 event her city endured where five Dallas police officers were murdered and nine others injured. The mass shooter in that case, former Army Pvt. Micah Johnson, had been sent back from Afghanistan after an accusation that he had sexually harassed a female solider. His case was apparently so egregious the Army recommended an "other than honorable discharge."

As I write this, estimates nearly 140 Americans have lost their lives in mass shooting events so far this year — and it's only April. Think about that.

Langbein wrote in an op-ed last year, "Mass shootings shock and frighten us, but domestic violence often does not — even though violence in the home is much deadlier and can serve as a precursor to horrific acts in public." We need to start asking ourselves why that is.

To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at Her latest book, "Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box," is available on To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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