If convicted of domestic violence, you shouldn't be allowed to have a gun

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(AP) On Sunday, Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs in south Texas. Those killed ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years; among them was Annabelle Pomeroy, the 14-year-old daughter of the church's pastor, Frank Pomeroy. Some 20 others were wounded. As a member of the U.S. Air Force, Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for domestic violence. He was pursued by two local men being hailed as heroes; he was found dead in his vehicle with several gunshot wounds, including a self-inflicted one in his head.

It's become something of a ritual now.

A mass shooting takes place in America — at a school, concert, movie theater, mall, a church. The nation freezes in horror. We grieve — for ever-shorter periods of time, because this happens so often.

Then we argue over why the shooting happened.

Second Amendment proponents resist the debate, insisting it's too soon. Gun regulation proponents say in fact that it's too late for those who have been killed.

We get nowhere.

Maybe it would help if we acknowledged a few basic facts about perpetrators of mass shootings.

The data show that they are mostly white men. But it would be unconstitutional — and ridiculous — to bar all white men from owning guns.

Some have mental illness, the problem President Donald Trump ascribed to Devin Kelley. It would seem reasonable to make it harder for the mentally ill to purchase guns, but earlier this year, the president signed a bill rolling back regulation that did just that.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Kelley had been treated at a mental health facility and briefly escaped in 2012.

Another trait seems common among mass shooters: Many are domestic abusers.

According to a study by Michael Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety, 54 percent of the mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 were related to domestic or family violence.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist from Northeastern University in Boston, told PBS NewsHour this week only 16 percent of mass killings since 2006 involve individuals who have a history of domestic violence — though that number rises to 29 percent when the gunman kills his wife and family. Fox said mass shooters tend to be socially isolated men who blame others for their problems.

So we're either talking about half of the mass shooters, or nearly a third, or more than one in 10 — a significant percentage, no matter what.

Kelley was a domestic abuser. He not only assaulted his first wife, but he fractured the skull of his infant stepson — intentionally, he acknowledged in his court martial.

Imagine, if you can stomach it, exacting so much rage on a very young child that you break his precious skull. And then consider someone with so much rage having access to a gun.

A neighbor of Kelley's first wife told the San Antonio Express-News that she described her ex-husband as “a crazy, controlling, psycho who was very abusive."

He served an inexplicably brief 12 months in military confinement for domestic abuse. He was then given a bad conduct discharge.

This should have disqualified him from owning a gun. But the Air Force didn't enter his domestic violence offense in the federal database that should have prevented him from buying one.

On this point, we agree wholeheartedly with Second Amendment proponents: Officials ought to enforce the laws already on the books. It is outrageous that the Air Force failed to follow procedure. We hope that it and other branches of the military work now to ensure that similar mistakes aren't made again. And we'd urge law enforcement agencies and courts to likewise ensure that their notification systems are working as they should.

Because domestic violence should not just be a red flag in the gun-buying process, but an ear-shattering alarm.

The AP reported that a domestic violence complaint was lodged in 2014 against Kelley involving the woman who eventually became his second wife. That same year, the AP reported, he was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty for beating a dog.

The following year, he was the subject of a protection from abuse order.

Freeman Martin, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference Monday that the Sutherland Springs shooting “was not racially motivated, it wasn't over religious beliefs, it was a domestic situation going on."

And now 26 people — about half of them children — are dead in a tiny town of fewer than 400 residents.

Those 26 include eight members of a single family — three generations of the Holcombe family hollowed out by a man who reportedly had a dispute with his own mother-in-law, who attended the same church.

Chillingly, according to AP, Kelley shot crying babies in the church at point-blank range.

Let's keep that harrowing detail in mind as we consider questions involving firearms and domestic violence.

In Pennsylvania, it's up to a judge to decide whether the recipient of a protection from abuse order should relinquish his guns — and if relinquishment is decreed, the person served with the PFA is given 24 hours to comply. We think the 24-hour deadline is arbitrary and unnecessary, and that relinquishment shouldn't be left to the discretion of a judge.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence also believes it's far too easy under current law for convicted abusers to get access to firearms, said spokesman Matt Kemeny.

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 501 would prohibit domestic violence abusers subject to a final PFA from possessing guns. That bill has been parked in the Senate Judiciary Committee since March.

It seems more imperative than ever that it be moved out of committee. We urge state Sens. Scott Martin and Ryan Aument to get behind that legislation, which was introduced by their fellow Republican Sen. Thomas Killion of Chester and Delaware counties.

Domestic violence is just one piece of the puzzle of mass violence. But it's a piece that must not be overlooked.

LNP Newspaper

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