Few media outlets give context on domestic violence following Colorado mass shooting

Following a mass shooting in Colorado last weekend that left seven dead, including the shooter and his girlfriend, national online and print media outlets largely failed to put the killer’s potential domestic violence motive into context, ignoring that domestic violence has increased throughout the pandemic and that the presence of a gun makes domestic violence situations much more lethal.

On May 9, a gunman opened fire at a family party in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing six relatives -- including his girlfriend -- before turning the gun on himself. The shooter had reportedly been dating one of the victims for about a year, and he was described by police as a “jealous” and “controlling” boyfriend. While there were no previous reports or charges of domestic abuse, the gunman reportedly tried to “isolate” his girlfriend from her family and had a “conflict” with her family members a week before the shooting. 

The information that the incidence involved the gunman fatally shooting his girlfriend was reported early on, and the Colorado Springs police chief gave an update on May 11 confirming domestic violence was at the “core” of this massacre.   

In articles following the update, many national news outlets repeated the police chief’s quotes and characterization of the shooter as a “controlling” boyfriend. However, they largely failed to put domestic violence in any type of broader context, such as its increase during the pandemic, its role in gun violence, its propensity as an indicator for mass shootings, or the policy solutions available to combat it.

Domestic violence has been referred to as “a pandemic within the COVID-19 pandemic.” Throughout 2020, police departments in New York City, San Antonio, and Portland, Oregon, reported an 10%, 18%, and 22% increase in domestic violence calls, respectively. Following the lockdown orders that started in March 2020, the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice found that domestic violence increased nationwide by about 8.1%. 

If a gun is present in these domestic violence cases, an abuser is five times more likely to kill his female victim -- and Black women are twice as likely to be shot as white victims. In fact, 57 women are fatally shot every month as a result of domestic violence, and as of 2018, 4.5 million women in the U.S. said they have been threatened with a gun by their intimate partner. Overall, an analysis of deaths in 2015 found that 92% of women killed by guns in high-income countries are in the U.S.

One outlet that did attempt to include such context was USA Today, which noted on May 10 that "according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, crime report data indicates about 1 in 5 homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by an intimate partner. Over half of female homicide victims are killed by a current [or] former male partner, the CDC says.”

Additionally, domestic violence and misogyny are also some of the biggest indicators that someone will commit mass violence. A 2019 analysis by Mother Jones “found that in at least 22 mass shootings since 2011—more than a third of the public attacks over the past eight years—the perpetrators had a history of domestic violence, specifically targeted women, or had stalked and harassed women.” 

Much of the coverage on the Colorado Springs shooting also failed to mention potential policy solutions to deal with these connections between domestic violence and mass shootings, though The Associated Press reported that one proposal in Colorado would “require a person facing a protection order related to domestic violence to report what firearms they possess.”

If someone is abusing a dating partner with whom they don’t live or have a child, no amount of convictions will disarm them, through what is known as the “boyfriend loophole.” The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act includes a provision to close this loophole, and it passed “overwhelmingly” in the 2019 House of Representatives. But it was never brought up for a vote by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Having passed again in 2021, it’s currently waiting for a vote in the Senate once again. 

Domestic violence is gun violence, and more major media outlets need to include the larger context linking the two issues in their coverage.