It's impossible to comprehend the darkness that overtook Bryce Monson when he decided to kill himself and his wife, Courtney Monson, on April 22 in their north suburban Twin Cities home. But it is clear that the handgun Bryce carried into that void enabled him to complete his murderous mission.
The 41-year-old Bryce pursued 30-year-old Courtney into the basement of their Ramsey home, where she sought refuge with three of their young children. According to Anoka County authorities, Bryce shot her multiple times and turned the gun on himself. Fortunately, the children were unharmed.
The vibrant mother's death spotlights an ongoing Minnesota tragedy: the steady number of women — a sum that stubbornly stays in the double digits — who die in acts of domestic violence each year. In 2015, that toll came to 22, a shocking increase from 16 the year before, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Three men also were killed by current or former partners.
While Minnesota grapples with Courtney Monson's senseless death and considers action to prevent another tragedy, a recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center merits serious consideration, particularly for Minnesota lawmakers polarized over gun safety.
Murder-suicides are "almost always" committed with a firearm, the report states. And "outside of high-profile mass shootings, the phenomenon of murder-suicide usually garners little public attention as a significant contributor to gun-related death and injury. This is despite the fact that … many murder-suicides result in the death or injury of family members and sometimes mass murder [and that] they cause countless additional morbidity, family trauma and disruption of communities." The October 2015 report is titled "American Roulette."
This information wasn't given the weight it deserves in the bitter battle over gun ownership that erupted this week at the State Capitol. The issue came to a head on Tuesday in an informational hearing where gun-rights and gun-control activists clashed over a proposal to require background checks for firearms sold at gun shows and between private individuals.
Currently, federally licensed handgun dealers must perform background checks on buyers. But sales between private individuals, such as at gun shows, do not. This leaves a loophole that not only threatens public safety but also undermines an important domestic violence protection passed in Minnesota in 2014. That law requires those subject to "qualifying" orders for protection or child abuse orders, as well those convicted of domestic abuse or stalking, to surrender their firearms. The background-check loophole allows a potential end run around these protective measures.
If there was common ground at the hearing, it was that nothing would happen this year due to the short session. That's a shame, because Courtney Monson's death just days earlier underscored a critical data point in the argument for universal background checks. Analysis of federal and state law enforcement data indicates that "38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners in the states that require a background check" for all gun sales, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety website.
Besides their use in murder-suicides, firearms are also the most common cause of domestic violence deaths in Minnesota and elsewhere, with their lethality and ease of use the driving reasons why.
It's not clear if background checks could have saved Courtney Monson. But they can save the lives of others who might fall prey to partners' murderous rage. Minnesota owes it to all domestic violence victims to take every step possible to ensure their safety.
A memorial service and candlelight vigil for Courtney Monson will be held Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Central Park, 7925 161st Ave NW, Ramsey. For more information, go to http://tinyurl.com/zc5r92k