Get a FREE copy of The Secular Creed by Rebecca McLaughlin

×

The Story: On Thursday night, a man shot and killed two female victims, then killed himself, in a parking lot of Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa.

The Background: According to a press briefing by the Story County Sheriff’s Office, a 33-year-old man shot and killed two young women in the parking lot of Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. Two students from Iowa State University, Eden Montang, 22, and Vivian Flores, 21, were at the church to attend a Bible study of high school and college students when the killer pulled up in his vehicle, drew a 9mm handgun, and shot the two women before shooting himself.

The shooting was the result of a “domestic situation” between the killer and Montang, and is being classified by law enforcement as a targeted act of violence. Last week the killer had been charged by the Ames Police with harassing Montang. He was released on bail and was scheduled to appear in court to answer the charges on June 10. The incident resulted in a restraining order on the killer by Montang.

Note: Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra wrote about Cornerstone Church in her 2016 article, “How a Small Baptist Church Grew One of America’s Largest Student Ministries.”

The Context: The loss of these young women is a heartbreaking tragedy, that will affect the community for decades. But how should those of us who are not directly connected think about the tragedy and how such act may be prevented in the future?

The murders outside Ames’ Cornerstone Church involve three overlapping violent phenomena: gun-related homicides, church shootings, and intimate partner violence. To fully understand how we should respond in a way that will prevent such acts in the future, we need to appropriately categorize this tragedy. Was this primarily a church shooting? Primarily an act of firearm-related violence? Or primarily an intimate partner murder? This emphasis on classification is not a matter of semantics but a necessary step in contextualization that can provide a deeper understanding of the problem we face.

Let’s begin by clarifying these terms.

A “church shooting” is a firearm-related incident that causes the injury or death of one or more persons in a church building or outside on a church property (such as in the parking lot). The National Church Shooting Database, which recorded shootings on church properties between 1980 and 2005, documented a total of 139 shootings during the 25 year period. In all, 185 people died, including 36 children. Since 2005, there have been 16 additional church shootings, including the one in Ames.

An act of “firearm-related violence” is violence that involves the use of a firearm, that is, any any type of gun designed to be carried and used by an individual.

The term “intimate partner violence” (IPV) describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur across age, ethnic, gender, and economic lines, among persons with disabilities, among both heterosexual and same-sex couples, and does not require sexual intimacy. IPV affects more than 12 million Americans each year.

In this context, the Ames shooting appears to be an act of intimate partner violence using a firearm that occurred on church property. This framing focuses on the type of act rather than on the weapon or location. While there may be reasons for focusing on the firearm and/or the church property, by emphasizing the type of act we can better understand the underlying problem we need to address.

For instance, if we think of it as a “church shooting” we imply that the victims were targeted because of their faith. In this case, the location was chosen by the killer because he knew that was where his target would be at a specific time. Focusing on increasing security of church property likely would not have prevented the tragedy.

If we think of it as primarily a firearm-related crime, we can see this as part of a broader problem of gun-related deaths that occur with alarming frequency in America. This might be a more helpful category, but it implies that if the firearm was removed from ​the equation the killings would not have occured. This is likely to be a false assumption.

However, thinking of it primarily as intimate partner violence helps us to better see that this incident is a broader pattern of of relational violence—especially violence against women.

Intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms of preventable violence in the world. In 48 population-based surveys from around the world, 10–69 percent of women reported being physically assaulted by an intimate male partner at some point in their lives. In large national studies, the range is between 10–34 percent. Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 women (22.3 percent) have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, while 1 in 7 men (14.0 percent) have experienced the same. Female victims frequently experienced multiple forms of IPV (i.e. rape, physical violence, stalking); male victims most often experienced physical violence.

Three fourths of all murder-suicides, like the one in Ames, involved an intimate partner. Of these, 96 percent were women killed by their intimate partners. Interpersonal violence is the leading cause of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy. On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.

A man targeting his current or former partner at church is also one of the most common forms of church shootings. The National Church Shooting Database found that almost 1 in 5 (20.1 percent) church shootings involved a victim of intimate partner violence.

Understanding the context, won’t take away our grief and may even increase the level of anxiety, especially among those who are potential victims. But by clearly understanding that the problem goes deeper than just another firearm-related death or random church shooting can help us be better prepared to help future victims of intimate partner violence.

LOAD MORE
Loading