It’s been eight years since my husband tried to kill me. Eight years since he shot me four times. Eight years since my 12-year-old daughter saw me running from the house as her dad shot me a final time, and then fatally shot himself. Eight years since my 10-year-old son flagged down a driver to call 9-1-1 and help me until medical professionals arrived at our house.
That day was the culmination of decades of control and verbal abuse. At first, the behavior was subtle. My husband would make comments that went just a little too far, and get increasingly resentful when I spent any time with friends and family.
Only one time prior — a few months after our son was born — did his behavior turn physically violent. He put his hands around my neck and tried to choke me. Once I broke free, my immediate instinct was to call the police, but I knew nobody would believe that my well-respected husband was capable of such a thing. After that, he threatened that if I ever tried to leave, he would put a bullet through my head.
Despite that, I contacted a divorce attorney. I was told to close my business — my means of supporting myself and my children — and leave town. It seemed impossible to walk away from my livelihood and turn my back on my employees. So, I stayed.
Years later, I realized I had to get out. My husband’s abusive behavior had escalated to stalking. He followed me everywhere I went, read my email and scoured my phone. He was extremely jealous and even accused me of having an affair with my therapist. He began a crusade to turn family and friends against me. But, my internal resolve to make a change only strengthened.
Instead of the change I had planned, my husband made his last attempt to control my destiny. At his hand, I was in critical condition for almost 24 hours, and I was in the surgical trauma intensive care unit for nearly two weeks.
During my time in the hospital, I was flooded with get well cards and well wishes, many of which expressed the same deep sadness and hope for a quick physical recovery. One, written by a friend, said “I could have been you. My husband held a gun to my head when I was packing to leave him.”
I was shocked. I’d had dinner with this friend just a few weeks prior, and shared my husband’s verbally abusive behavior with her. What if she had told me about what her husband had done to her? Would I have realized the danger I was in? Would I have been able to get myself and my kids out of our home before this had happened?
In that moment, I realized that women need to know how abusive behavior escalates. And, they need to have the chance I never had — to protect themselves and their children.
Once I was physically able after the shooting, I started volunteering my time advocating for women who arrive at the emergency room with injuries related to domestic violence. Most had stories like mine, about abuse that escalated over a number of years.
Through this experience, I learned how deadly the relationship between violence against women and access to guns is, and how easy it is for domestic abusers to get guns.
It’s also incredibly common for women to be threatened with guns by abusive partners — about 4.5 million American women alive today have been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner. In fact, advocates like me are trained to ask women if their partner has access to a firearm, because the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that the women will be killed.
My husband tried to kill me because he had access to a quick and easy way to do so. If he hadn’t had a gun, I don’t believe he would have tried to kill me — and then himself — any other way. That’s why, as important as my work with women who have survived domestic violence is, I also believe we need to do more to prevent people who show patterns of control and verbal or physical abuse from having access to firearms in the first place.
A few years ago, I got involved in efforts to do just that — to change the laws in my state of Virginia so that fewer people with a history of domestic violence have access to a firearm. Over the years, I’ve shared my story with members of the Virginia General Assembly about a dozen times. I’ve helped advance policies to protect women and families, and I’ve helped beat back policies that would make it easier for domestic abusers to have guns.
Last year, I was proud to advocate against a dangerous “permitless carry” bill that would have dismantled Virginia’s commonsense gun laws and made it easier for people with a history of domestic violence to carry hidden, loaded handguns. Thankfully, this proposal didn’t become law. I know that by meeting with my elected officials and sharing my story, I helped to save lives.
Across the country, survivors of violence by intimate partners like me are fighting to change the laws in their states. In fact, since the beginning of 2013, 25 states and Washington D.C. have passed 37 new laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
These policies have passed in every region of the country with bipartisan backing thanks in part to the steadfast support of survivors and volunteers with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the largest grassroots gun violence prevention organization in the country.
Most recently, survivors of domestic violence and volunteers in Rhode Island fought for three yearsto advance a bill to help keep guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers. This year, it was finally passed by the legislature, and is poised to become law.
And now, we’re turning our sights on Congress. Survivors are speaking out against a proposal making its way through Congress called “concealed carry reciprocity,” which would gut the commonsense gun laws states have passed and allow many domestic abusers to carry concealed firearms in every state in the country, no matter the local or state law.
There are dozens of stories like this from across the country. And, our work is all the more important weeks after our country experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. In fact, the majority of mass shootings in the U.S. are related to domestic or family violence.
Each success is because survivors and committed activists have stood up and said, enough is enough. We deserve better.
Every time I share my story, it’s an emotional experience. It’s hard to relive the trauma of that day. Each time, I do it for one simple reason — my children. The last eight years have been very hard for my children as they struggle with what their father did to me, our family. They represent thousands of kids around the country who are living this struggle, many of whose mothers were murdered by intimate partners, and I want to prevent something similar from happening to even more kids.
For me, every victory represents countless families who will be spared this senseless violence. And that’s what continues to drive me to speak up.