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With domestic violence homicides on the rise in Texas, researchers explore guns’ role

Oasis Outback has been identified as the store where an 18-year-old bought the AR-15 he used to kill 19 students and two faculty members at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. "Way too many of these mass shooters are 18," says Jacquelyn Campbell, an expert in family violence. "We know a lot now about brain science. We know about the impulsivity, the lack of total, you know, prefrontal cortex, where we usually decide whether or not to do something."
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
Oasis Outback has been identified as the store where an 18-year-old bought the AR-15 he used to kill 19 students and two faculty members at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. "Way too many of these mass shooters are 18," says Jacquelyn Campbell, an expert in family violence. "We know a lot now about brain science. We know about the impulsivity, the lack of total, you know, prefrontal cortex, where we usually decide whether or not to do something."

Trends have been increasing over time for both domestic violence homicides and the proportion carried out with guns, with 184 domestic violence homicides of women in Texas in 2021.

Texas is seeing an alarming increase in domestic violence gun homicides, especially among women, say researchers with the Texas Council on Family Violence, Johns Hopkins University and Arizona State University.

Jacquelyn Campbell, a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing with a research focus on domestic and intimate partner violence, said that trends have been increasing over time for both domestic violence homicides and the proportion carried out with guns, with 184 domestic violence homicides of women in Texas in 2021.

Campbell, along with the TCFV, Johns Hopkins and ASU, are launching research dedicated to understanding the relationship between firearms and domestic violence.

“What we want to do is not only track what guns are used in these domestic violence homicides, but we also want to track whether or not that person who murders their partner owns more than one gun,” she said. “What type of guns do they own, and should they have been prohibited from buying a gun or from owning a gun?

“There’s other risk factors we want to find out about, but particularly in the context of guns: Would it have helped if a state like Texas had red flag laws? In other words, where someone who had been known to commit domestic violence before and was considered to be a severe threat against his partner or ex-partner? You know, is there a way that under Texas law there could, you know, if we had those laws in Texas where that gun could have been removed.”

Campbell, who is also an expert in family violence, weighed in on the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. While much is not known about the shooter’s background or motive, state officials have said he was 18 years old and shot his grandmother in the face before going to the elementary school where he killed 19 students and two teachers.

“First of all, way too many of these mass shooters are 18. And we know a lot now about brain science. We know about the impulsivity, the lack of total, you know, prefrontal cortex, where we usually decide whether or not to do something,” she said. “We know that at 18, all of that has not yet been well-formed. We also know that if the individual has experienced trauma as a child – that in the family situation or other places in their life, they’ve been severely traumatized – that that prefrontal cortex is even less likely to be operating when someone has impulses to do something.”

Campbell said she supports policy that would move the age limit for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21.

“I think absolutely that’s something that needs to be done,” she said. “Like people have said, if you cannot buy a drink in Texas before you’re 21, how in heaven’s name should you be allowed to buy a gun?

As for other policy solutions, Campbell suggested more school resources for youth who have experienced trauma, including more counselors to help address issues, as well as carefully crafting red flag laws and helping youth understand what a healthy relationship is like, to help them be able to navigate this world in terms of online safety.

“The emphasis needs to be on mental health. It’s not that these people are psychotic or are our traditional definitions of mental illness. But they have had these traumatic experiences which make them less than optimally healthy in terms of their emotional regulation,” Campbell said. “That kind of language, I think, is more helpful than just saying we have a mental health crisis – because people start thinking that means this person was crazy, and no, but this person definitely needed some interventions around to improve their emotional regulation or to improve and help them process whatever traumatic experiences have affected them.”

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Jill Ament | Texas Standard