The role of domestic violence in fatal mass shootings in the United States, 2014-2019

Inj Epidemiol. 2021 May 31;8(1):38. doi: 10.1186/s40621-021-00330-0.


Background: Fatal mass shootings, defined as four or more people killed by gunfire, excluding the perpetrator, account for a small percentage of firearm homicide fatalities. Research has not extensively focused on the role of domestic violence (DV) in mass shootings in the United States. This study explores the role of DV in mass shootings in the United States.

Methods: Using 2014-2019 mass shooting data from the Gun Violence Archive, we indexed our data by year and mass shooting and collected the number of deaths and injuries. We reviewed news articles for each mass shooting to determine if it was 1) DV-related (i.e., at least one victim of a mass shooting was a dating partner or family member of the perpetrator); 2) history of DV (i.e., the perpetrator had a history of DV but the mass shooting was not directed toward partners or family members); or 3) non-DV-related (i.e., the victims were not partners or family members, nor was there mention of the perpetrator having a history of DV). We conducted descriptive analyses to summarize the percent of mass shootings that were DV-related, history of DV, or non-DV-related, and analyzed how many perpetrators died during the incidents. We conducted one-way ANOVA to examine whether there were differences in the average number of injuries or fatalities or the case fatality rates (CFR) between the three categories. One outlier and 17 cases with unknown perpetrators were excluded from our main analysis.

Results: We found that 59.1% of mass shootings between 2014 and 2019 were DV-related and in 68.2% of mass shootings, the perpetrator either killed at least one partner or family member or had a history of DV. We found significant differences in the average number of injuries and fatalities between DV and history of DV shootings and a higher average case fatality rate associated with DV-related mass shootings (83.7%) than non-DV-related (63.1%) or history of DV mass shootings (53.8%). Fifty-five perpetrators died during the shootings; 39 (70.9%) died by firearm suicide, 15 (27.3%) were killed by police, and 1 (1.8%) died from an intentional overdose.

Conclusions: Most mass shootings are related to DV. DV-related shootings had higher CFR than those unrelated to DV. Given these findings, restricting access to guns by perpetrators of DV may affect the occurrence of mass shootings and associated casualties.

Keywords: Domestic violence; Firearms; Intimate partner violence; Mass shootings.