On Sunday, November 5, 2017, a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people and injuring 20 others in the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history. As details emerge about the gunman’s deeply troubled past, the public is left wondering why someone with such a violent history was able to legally obtain a firearm. In addition to a domestic abuse conviction, the gunman had also been cited for animal cruelty charges after viciously beating his dog in 2014.
This tragic shooting is yet another example of the direct correlation between animal abuse and violence against humans. While the gunman’s motive remains unclear, it is evident that a failure to properly track and report his many crimes against people and animals contributed to his ease of access to deadly weapons. Proper tracking and studying of crimes against animals is one of many actions that should be taken in an effort to prevent further tragedies from occurring.
Animal abusers committing violent crimes against people is not uncommon. Numerous notable serial killers are documented animal abusers and studies at several federal penitentiaries have determined that 70% of violent prisoners had repeated animal abuse in their histories, compared to only 6% of prisoners serving time for nonviolent offenses. The link between animal abuse and violent offenders is well-established. In response to these studies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began tracking crimes against animals in 2016 via the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Animal cruelty crimes are now listed in the database as a Group A offense—the same category as arson, rape, and murder. This authoritative resource for animal cruelty information is a major step in the right direction, but many law enforcement agencies throughout the country —including the New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles departments—do not currently report to NIBRS. If the animal cruelty database is to succeed, more law enforcement must participate.
The Texas shooting is a devastating reminder of the United States’ deeply flawed legal system. While there are numerous factors that must be addressed, tracking animal cruelty crimes should not be overlooked. NIBRS can help law enforcement detect criminal patterns and stop animal abusers before their behavior worsens. In order for animal cruelty to be properly tracked and studied by the FBI, NIBRS must be implemented by law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., and citizens like you can help make this happen.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Use the map here to check your state's NIBRS participation. If your state does not participate—or only partially participates—in NIBRS, use the contact information provided in the map and urge them to join. CLICK HERE FOR SAMPLE LETTER.
- If you live in a state with partial NIBRS participation, check here to see if your local jurisdiction is participating. If your local law enforcement agency is not listed, that means they do currently participate. Contact the agency directly and urge them to join the system. CLICK HERE FOR SAMPLE LETTER.
- Report all animal cruelty and encourage others to do the same. For the database to succeed, your local law enforcement must be notified of crimes against animals and report them.
Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images