The Northern California shooter had a documented history of abusing women

The one thing linking the majority of mass shootings.

Phil Johnston, the assistant sheriff for Tehama County, briefs reporters on the shootings near the Rancho Tehama Elementary School, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Corning, California. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Phil Johnston, the assistant sheriff for Tehama County, briefs reporters on the shootings near the Rancho Tehama Elementary School, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Corning, California. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

On Tuesday morning, a gunman in Northern California went on a sprawling shooting rampage, killing five people. The shooter was later killed by police, authorities said.

The gunman, identified as Kevin Neal, 43, targeted an elementary school during his sprawling attack, injuring one child at the school and another child being driven to the school, but a lockdown procedure kept Neal from doing further damage, and initial reports said four people were killed.

Then, on Wednesday, the Tehama County sheriff confirmed the shooter’s identity and said that law enforcement found Neal’s wife fatally shot, her body concealed under the floorboards of the house.

“There was a hole cut in the floor,” the sheriff said. “We’re confident that he murdered her, shot her at some point on Monday, and just put her body in the hole in the floor and just covered it up… We believe that’s what started this whole event.”

Neal has a history of violence against women. One of the people killed Tuesday was a woman who had sought protection from Neal earlier this year. The woman, a neighbor of Neal’s, filed a temporary restraining order against him after he violently attacked her and another woman in January. According to law enforcement, Neal fired at the two women through a fence, then stabbed one of them and stole a cell phone.

Additionally, neighbors told CBS Neal had “fired multiple rounds for days” before the shooting Tuesday.

The story of Tuesday’s shooting is part of a disturbing trend: Mass shooters are, more often than not, domestic abusers with histories of violence against women.

Adam Lanza, who shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children, in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, first shot and killed his own mother. The ex-wife of Omar Mateen, who shot and killed 49 people in Orlando, Florida last year, said Mateen beat her and held her hostage.

Earlier this year, Spencer Hight, whose wife had said he had a history of being violent with her, shot and killed eight people — including his wife — at a party in Plano, Texas.

Less than two weeks ago, Devin Kelley killed 26 people in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church, including his grandmother-in-law. Before the shooting, Kelley reportedly sent “threatening texts” to his mother-in-law. Additionally, in 2012, Kelley attacked his then-wife and stepson, breaking the infant’s skull.

The motives of and narratives surrounding every mass shooting are different. But so often — the majority of the time, in fact — the mass shooters have a history of abusing women.

“When things like this happen,” Shannon Watts, the founder of the nonprofit group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said Wednesday, referring to Tuesday’s shooting, “my first thought when it is a white man is that it is in some way linked to domestic violence.”

There is not one accepted definition of mass shootings, but Everytown, a nonprofit advocating for gun control, considers a mass shooting an incident in which four or more people are shot and killed, not including the killer. Under that definition, Tuesday’s shooting is the 10th mass shooting this year and the 166th since 2009.

Additionally, a report from Everytown analyzing mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 found that 54 percent of mass shootings are related to domestic violence.

It’s clear, Watts told ThinkProgress Tuesday: “If someone has domestic violence in their history they are more likely to be a mass shooter.”

For that reason, the news that one of the people Neal shot and killed Tuesday was a woman who had recently sought protection from him is, unfortunately, very common.

Federal law prevents anyone convicted of whether a misdemeanor or a felony, has been barred from purchasing or possessing a gun, but, Watts said Wednesday, that the federal definition of abusers is too narrow to be as effective as the law ought to be. It doesn’t include dating partners or stalkers, and in some cases, someone who has a restraining order against them can still purchase a gun.

(Notably, the AP reported Wednesday that Neal was prohibited from having guns as part of his restraining order. Why he possessed several anyway remains unclear.)

Additionally, an administrative loophole means the military isn’t putting domestic violence convictions into the national background check system, so despite convictions in military courts, abusers are often able to purchase and possess firearms.

Two senators, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Martin Heinrich (D-AZ), are working on a bill to close that loophole, but Watts said Wednesday that she thinks statehouses are the most important place to start.

“For activists, Congress isn’t where the work starts, it’s where the work ends,” Watts said. Her group, Moms Demand Action, has been focusing on state level reforms that expand the definitions of domestic abuse and aim to keep guns out of the hands of abusers.

Just last month in Rhode Island, days after the Las Vegas shooting that left 58 people dead, a bill for which Watts advocated that takes guns away from domestic abusers and people under domestic restraining orders was signed into law.

The move to focus on statehouses is a smart one. Time and time again, seemingly common sense gun legislation has stalled mere weeks after mass shootings. Most recently, aides on the Hill were reportedly saying a bump stock ban introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after the Vegas shooting was dead just three weeks after the attack.

But perhaps the simplest thing Congress could do, Watts said Wednesday, would be to restore the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s funding to study gun violence.

“It is immoral, it is a dereliction of duty, and it makes Congress culpable,” Watts said of the fact that Congress has left the CDC without funding for gun violence research for more than two decades now.

And the reason, why, Watts said, is simple: “It’s at the behest of the NRA. This is what they want. They want no research. They don’t even want us to talk.”

This story has been updated with additional information from law enforcement and other reports.