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Dire consequences 

Terror.

That's what you hear, see, and feel in the videos taken by students hiding in closets as Nikolas Cruz kills 17 of their classmates and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Imagine hearing that rampage. Your heart is surging. An automatic weapon fires. Screams. People dying.

Terror.

That's also what a woman feels every time her intimate partner raises his hand to beat her, locks his hands around her neck, or cocks a gun by her head.

I've never experienced domestic abuse; I've never been hit or had my life threatened. But decades ago, I was in a relationship with a volatile man who controlled and coerced me emotionally. I was hyper alert to his moods, careful not to upset him or trigger a rant. I calculated everything I did or said by how he might react.

Finally, I realized that the relationship was toxic for me. I told him over the phone that I was leaving—and the next thing I knew, he was at the door. He wanted to talk. Reluctantly, I let him in.

He argued, persuaded, cried, pleaded. He made me feel small and selfish. But I did not take back my decision. His anger spiraled. He raged around the apartment tearing and throwing things. Then, he punched a hole in the wall.

Seeing his barely-checked violence, hearing the plaster crack, stopped time. My ears shrieked. At that moment, I experienced tunnel vision: My future telescoped to ash if I stayed with this man. I fled.

Let me emphasize, my story is not special. I'm not looking for sympathy—I deserve no particular admiration. In fact, my experience pales by comparison to thousands, millions of victims across the U.S., in California, and in the county of San Luis Obispo.

Terror is their daily reality.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 8.5 million women face intimate partner violence every year. Our county domestic violence service programs, RISE and Stand Strong, report that they helped 1,700 clients escape violence in 2016-17.

I had no idea there were so many. Look around: 1,700 of our neighbors, coworkers, fellow parents, churchgoers, and fellow residents faced recurring brutality until they fled.

Now—imagine a gun in the hands of their abusers.

We can do more than imagine that situation. Last year The Huffington Post published first-person accounts.

Kate Ranta from Coral Springs, Florida, wrote: "One day, over a year after I left him, he showed up unannounced at my new apartment while my father was visiting me. I could feel something was off and frantically tried to lock the door. He pulled out a gun. 'I just want to talk to Kate,' he said, and shot me twice. One bullet exploded my hand. The other went through my left breast, just missing my heart. My father was also shot twice. My son witnessed the whole thing."

Nicole Beverly from Ypsilanti, Michigan, recounted a vicious episode in which her husband beat her, cracked her ribcage, strangled her, and pointed a gun at her for hours. "The next morning, the first thing he said was that I owed him an apology for almost making him kill me. He didn't let me leave the house for three days because of all the bruises. After I was allowed to leave the house again, he warned me that if I told anyone or left him, he would hunt me down. He was going to shoot me. He was going to paralyze me. He was going to throw acid on my face. He was going to slit my throat."

Data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety confirms that guns can turn domestic violence into murder. Women are five times more likely to be killed during a partner assault when a gun is present. Each month, 50 women in the U.S. are shot to death in domestic violence situations, and approximately 50 percent of all women killed by intimate partners are killed by guns.

Another sobering fact: 54 percent of mass shootings are related to domestic violence.

Nikolas Cruz, the accused Parkland gunman, had abused his girlfriend. Omar Mateen, who left 49 dead and 58 wounded at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, had beaten two wives. Last November, Devin Kelly killed 26 and wounded 20 at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Kelly had been convicted of assaulting his wife and a child.

The list goes on. Look up the domestic violence backgrounds of mass shooters Cedric Ford, John Russell Houser, Robert Dear, Scott Evans Dekraai, and Esteban Santiago. The connection is a cry for action.

Without a doubt, the intersection of domestic violence and gun violence has dire consequences for all American communities. And especially for women.

Compared to other states, California has made strides in adopting common sense gun laws, but far more needs to be done to protect victims of domestic abuse from gun violence, even here in San Luis Obispo.

Next month, I'll review suggestions from officials, professionals, and law enforcement.

Meanwhile, if you experience domestic abuse, you can stop the terror. You can find shelter and services locally at Stand Strong and RISE (https://standstrongnow.org and www.riseslo.org). Crisis hotlines are (805) 781-6400 and (855) 886-7473. Δ

Amy Hewes is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor atclanham@newtimesslo.com.

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