(Photo: Getty Images)
This past Sunday, a Texas woman, Valerie Jackson, was killed along with her husband and six children in their Houston home. The perpetrator was Jackson’s former domestic partner — and abuser — David Ray Conley, who purchased the gun used in the mass killing online. One of the children killed was Conley’s 13-year old son with Jackson, Nathaniel.
Valerie Jackson had been the victim of domestic violence at the hands of Conley, a convicted felon, many times during the duration of their relationship. In the early 2000’s, Jackson told police that Conley had cut her neck, punched her in the face and wrapped an electrical cord around their baby’s neck.
Despite his prior convictions qualifying him for the potential maximum sentence of twenty-five years in prison, the prosecutor in the case instead made a plea deal with the defense. Conley only served five years in prison before returning to the outside — and to his on-again, off-again harassment of Jackson.
Conley’s ex-wife recently told Fox News that Conley had abused her during their marriage, too, and that “If I hadn’t left he probably would have killed me.”
Leaving, unfortunately, still wasn’t enough to save Valerie Jackson and her family, largely because of the current loopholes that exist around online gun sales and background checks. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, one in thirty people who are able to buy guns online should be prohibited from owning guns due to their criminal records.
“Anybody can go online and arrange to purchase a gun from an unlicensed seller,” Soto Lamb explains, “Criminals and other people know that they can do this and skip the background check requirement that they would have to go through in a store,” Erika Soto Lamb, Communications Director for Everytown for Gun Safety, tells Yahoo Health.
Jackson’s death was the ninth in Texas since 2009 involving domestic violence. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood that the women will be killed by 500 percent; in states that require background checks on all handgun sales, 46 percent fewer women are killed, according to Soto Lamb.
“The tragedy in Houston is an example of what happens when we don’t make it hard for dangerous people to get guns. We know criminals are going online to get guns — it’s an easy way to arm themselves without having to go through a background check.”
According to the FBI, a mass shooting is defined by any time where four or more people are killed. According to this definition, Soto Lamb says, the majority of mass shootings are actually domestic violence related. “Movie theaters and churches get more news coverage — but mass shootings are happening all the time across the country…but they’re happening in people’s homes. Women are getting killed, children are getting killed.”
She notes that in the past year, a half a dozen states have passed laws preventing domestic violence offenders from passing a background check, while another half a dozen states have created states laws to close the loophole regarding online sales and requiring a background check on all gun sales. Presently, having a record of domestic abuse isn’t enough to prevent an individual from passing a background check in many states. And, Soto Lamb says, for those who do “live in a state where you know being a domestic abuser prevents you from buying a gun at a gun store, you can still go online [in most states] to buy a gun, no questions asked. It’s as easy as buying shoes.”
Soto Lamb says that the tragedy in Texas involving Valerie Jackson and her family is one of the largest killing of children since Sandy Hook — though an unfortunate desensitization remains among Americans when shootings are tied to domestic violence or happen inside someone’s home. “There’s this feeling of, Oh — that was just in your family, so that wouldn’t happen to me.”
And yet, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average, nearly twenty people per minute are physically absued by an intimate partner in the United States and one in three women have been a victim of some form of physical violence in their lifetime.
Just three weeks ago, a 22-year old woman named Shayley Estes was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in the Phoenix home the estranged couple, who had a history of domestic violence, shared. In December of 2014, 39-year old Catherine Gessman of Ohio was shot and injured by her ex-boyfriend, who also shot and killed her ten-year old daughter, Samantha. The week prior to the murder, Gessman filed a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend after he was arrested for assaulting her. In May of 2014, 29-year old Monique Williams was shot and killed by an abusive ex-boyfriend who bought the gun used to kill her online after being blocked from purchasing one from a licensed seller requiring a background check.
However, states that require background checks on all handgun sales — even those sold through unregistered dealers online — see 46 percent fewer intimate partner gun homicides of women a year.
Which is exactly why Soto Lamb and her colleagues are working to ensure that convicted criminals and those with a history of domestic violence can no longer purchase a gun online without a background check — something federal law currently does not prevent.
“Are some people going to find a way around it?” asks Soto Lamb, “Yes. But we are a nation of laws and when it comes to guns, we don’t have the stoplight in place to save lives from gun violence. We need to put pressure on Washington to close the background check loophole with online gun sales and private dealers.”
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