About six weeks into her marriage with Omar Mateen, the shooter behind Sunday's Orlando massacre, Sitora Yusufiy began to notice that her husband's temper would flare, sometimes without warning. According to the New York Times, Yusufiy said that Mateen forbade her to call her parents, only let her out of the house for her job as a day care teacher, and took her money. He also allegedly hit her.
“He beat me," she told the Washington Post. "He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that."
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women in America have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Yet only a little over half of cases are reported to authorities, and only about a third of victims injured by their partners receive medical care, U.S. News reports. And indeed, Yusufiy apparently never brought Mateen's abusive behavior to the attention of law enforcement.
But even if she had alerted authorities, Mateen would still have had ample opportunities to buy a gun, thanks to a host of loopholes in current gun regulation.
Under federal law, individuals convicted of domestic abuse or with full restraining orders are prohibited from firearm ownership if the abuser has been married to the victim, has a child with them, or cohabits with them. Mateen and Yusufiy's marriage lasted from 2009 to 2011.
But there are still ways for domestic abusers and subjects of restraining orders to buy or own guns. The biggest loophole is that, in some states (including Florida, where Mateen purchased his guns), individuals under temporary restraining orders are still able to buy guns. Domestic abusers and stalkers can also easily evade gun prohibitions by purchasing guns from unlicensed or private sellers, Everytown, a gun violence awareness group, says, since federal law only requires background checks for gun sales at licensed dealers (most private sales are legal).
More than a dozen states require checks on all handgun sales, according to Everytown, but in the remaining states, prohibited abusers seeking to avoid a background check would have little trouble purchasing a gun from an unlicensed seller they meet online or at a gun show.
It appears that Mateen purchased a gun from a licensed seller, but if he were truly determined to carry out his attack, he would not have had much difficulty buying his arsenal. Allison Anderman of the Law Center to Prevent Gun violence told me that 40% of gun sales in the U.S. are conducted by private individuals, and Everytown says one in four prohibited purchasers seeking guns online had a domestic violence arrest.
"Prohibited domestic abusers are well aware of this loophole—and have taken advantage of it to deadly effect," Everytown says.
Finally, federal law does not require domestic abusers to relinquish any guns they already own. (Some states do, but Florida does not.)
Federal laws preventing domestic abusers from buying guns are not wholly ineffective: A conviction for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence represents the third-most frequent reason for denial of an application to purchase a firearm by the FBI, after a felony conviction and an outstanding arrest warrant, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
But an abuse victim must first have the support to report the abuser in the first place. According to the Department of Justice, the most common reasons given by victims for not contacting the police were that they considered the incident a private or personal matter, they feared retaliation, or they felt the police would not be able to do anything about the incident.
The most novel and effective gun law targeting domestic abusers was enacted by California in 2014. A resident there can file a Gun Violence Restraining Order, which addresses most of the loopholes I've just mentioned. According to the Law Center:
- It temporarily prohibits the subject from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition
- And it allows law enforcement to temporarily remove any firearms or ammunition already in that person’s possession
"Shooters may exhibit certain warning signs of impending violence, but those behaviors may not be severe enough to allow authorities to take preventive action," the Center says. "Those in the best position to see and recognize these warning signs—immediate family members—are left without legal means to intervene. The GVRO law addresses this."
After his relationship with Yusufiy ended, Mateen is reported to have married a second woman, Noor Salman, whom the FBI is now considering charging for failing to tell authorities about Mateen's plans, according to NBC. Salman has not made any public statements about her relationship with Mateen, or any violence it may or may not have contained. But in either case, the loophole-ridden state of current gun regulations would not have done much to deter Mateen from enacting his deadly plan.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.