Anti-Gun Violence Filmmaker: Mass Shooting Warning Signs Are Close to Home (Guest Column)

Eugene Simpson Field - gunman opened fire June 14, 2017 -Getty-H 2017
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All domestic abusers do not go on to shoot up public spaces. But many people who shoot up public spaces have been domestic abusers.

An angry citizen approached a field full of politicians and fired at them with a powerful weapon. It was a deliberate attack on elected government officials by a disgruntled member of the party out of power — a party which has been outmaneuvered and outvoted and now stands on the outside looking in. Because it was perpetrated by a man who seemed to profess to hold liberal views, conservatives pounced.

An angry white man walked up to a field full of his fellow human beings and fired at them. He used a weapon that has no practical purpose other than to dispatch as many lives as possible as quickly as possible. Because that weapon and so many others like it have perpetrated so many mass shootings over the decades, while making a small group of gun manufacturers wealthy, liberals pounced.

This is an old story by now. But if we can resist the urge to chase this event down yet another partisan rabbit hole, this episode might just steer us to a new and better understanding of the problem of domestic violence in American life.

“But — how can this be?” one may ask. “He was a Bernie supporter! Doesn’t that mean he is a peaceful guy?” 

Yes, the shooter appeared to be a Bernie supporter who spoke out against income inequality and called for a strong middle class on social media. But that is not enough to preclude someone from committing acts of hatred or violence. What this man, whom I will not name, held in common with a shockingly large percentage of other white and male shooters before him is a totally non-partisan history of abusiveness and active hatred of women

Why is that important? What do a few incidents of private, targeted violence have to do with this one unthinkable act of indiscriminate public brutality? 

If you look back over the course of public shootings, there is almost invariably a quiet story of violence against women left in the wake of the shooter leading up to the day he came to our notice. A wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter — one of these is so often the first corpse, found much later, back at home where the killings began, and to which their roots can always be traced. More often than not, she was the last thing this man had tethering him to reality — to humanity. She was the last call to his otherwise emptying conscience, the last voice reminding him of his humanness, and the last strand of the fraying fabric that had once held him woven into society.

All domestic abusers do not go on to shoot up public spaces. But many people who shoot up public spaces have been domestic abusers. Or have expressed violent hatred for women. Or have beaten or abused women who have offended them in some way.

According to a report from the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, "the majority of mass shootings in the United States are related to domestic or family violence." And in 42 percent of shootings, the shooter exhibited warning signs before the shooting including “acts, or attempted acts, or threats of violence toward oneself or others; violence of protective orders; or evidence of ongoing substance abuse.” 

Liberals and conservatives are equally susceptible to public violence when they ignore or dismiss the significance of private violence. So, what if we came to see private violence as a public problem? Instead of millions of aberrations occurring behind millions of closed doors, what if we saw the constant unrelenting drumbeat of attacks on women in their own homes or the fear with which any woman walks down any street alone at night as bigger than simply a “women’s issue”? What if we acted on these occurrences, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, as if women mattered? 

Perhaps then this man would already have lost his access to the high-powered weapon he so coolly used to mow down his fellow humans. 

This is one of many mass shootings just since the outset of 2017. Another occurred in San Francisco so soon afterward, the press has barely noticed. If I told you that we had a predictor of terrorism this reliable, would you continue to ignore it?

Please, America — if you can’t care about the violence that women face in their homes every single day because it is the right thing to do, can you at least try to care because it might help us mitigate the scourge of violence that our country cannot seem to shake? Can we resist the urge to use death and suffering yet again to taunt, egg on and troll one another long enough to address the sickness at the heart of American life?

Abigail E. Disney is the director of The Armor of Light, a documentary that takes a look at America's gun culture through a moral lens, and granddaughter of Roy Disney, the co-founder of Walt Disney Productions. She is currently president and CEO of Fork Films.