“He shot me 5 times…”
“I remember hearing a very loud noise and, when I turned around, seeing a gun very close to my head. He was standing 2 feet from me, very close, and he had shot me for the first time … ,” Pauletta Perez calmly recalled that unforgettable morning when her husband tried to murder her. “When I kept turning around, he kept shooting.”
After being shot five times, the woman managed to recover, found her way downstairs, ran to the door (she has this image of trying to grab the handle and rotating it), and walked unsteadily towards the neighbor’s house.
“My husband just shot me,” she told her neighbor, who was shocked by the appearance of this woman bleeding profusely from her head. Other neighbors who approached were like frozen. One finally called 911.
With that chilling story, Pauletta Perez opened the press conference, organized by Ethnic Media Services, in which the member of the board of directors of Voices Against Violence joined other experts to explore the connections between firearms and domestic violence.
Other participants included Laura Cutilletta, director of the Giffords Law Center; Tiffany Garner, State Administrator of the Giffords Law Center’s Community Violence Initiatives; and Shikha Hamilton, Director of Advocacy and Mobilization at Brady, United to End Gun Violence.
Twenty one times
What happened to Perez is not an isolated incident. It happens frequently. Especially in the United States where, compared to other high-income countries, a woman is 21 times more likely to be killed by a firearm.
Most of these homicides are not committed by strangers, but by someone close: a husband, a boyfriend, a relative. And this phenomenon, as research suggests, is not limited to certain demographic groups. Anyone can be a victim regardless of race, ethnicity, education, income.
“There are more than a million women who have been shot by their partner, and 4.5 million who have been threatened with a weapon …,” said Tiffany Garner. “More than 600 (died) … that is approximately one every 14 hours.”
Following the assassination attempt, Perez’s husband committed suicide and left unanswered his motivation. Although he had been an abusive husband, something that Pauletta discovered only after her marriage, there was no overt and immediate cause that provoked or explained the drastic act.
Moreover, the day had been an ordinary morning in which Pauletta had been washing clothes and preparing to meet with her friend, in what had become a monthly tradition, to eat pancakes. There had been no arguments, no fights; nothing that anticipated what was going to happen. And suddenly, while she was folding clothes, lining up the shirts, the pants, she heard him ask: “Why have you been talking about me?” And the first shot went off.
At the state level, several governments have introduced laws that limit who can buy a gun.
“The states that have enacted laws that restrict access to firearms, to people with domestic violence restraining orders, have been quite effective,” explained attorney Laura Cutilletta. “States with these laws have seen a 13% reduction in homicides involving firearms. And the states that have done so by ex parte emergency protection orders have seen a reduction of 16%.”
The problem is at the federal level, where any possibility of reform seems to be DOA. This is due, in large part, to powerful lobbies such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) who promote a dogmatic interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, and spineless politicians who fear their support may cost them re-election.
Despite the NRA´s fallacy that it is men and not guns that kill, the danger posed by guns has been thoroughly documented. As some studies suggest, the presence of a weapon in a domestic-crisis situation increases the risk of ending in a homicide by 500%.
Therefore, as Shikha Hamilton suggests, it is imperative to continue the campaigns for Congress to approve the bills that provide greater protection to victims of domestic violence.
Those bills include the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, the National Instant Criminal Background Check system (HR8), and The Violence Against Woman Act. Among other things, they would allow family members, friends, or the police to petition the courts for the removal of weapons from risky individuals. Another bill seeks to eliminate loopholes and improve the system that helps verify the background of those who want to purchase weapons.
“Today that background check bill, HR8, is still waiting for a vote in the Senate because the NRA and the gun lobby have made it nearly impossible for many members of Congress to vote for this type of bill, despite being more popular than any other policy proposal,” explained Hamilton.
This legislative impasse, in a country with 393 million guns, is costing lives.
It almost cost Pauletta Perez´s.
After the five bullets she received, it took years for her to recover. Initially, it was all about efforts to ensure her survival. Then came 6 or 7 years of surgery after surgery. Some to remove bullet fragments (she still has some in sensitive areas of her body that makes surgical removal a very risky option). She lost hearing in her right ear, and had to learn to pronounce words, sentences, in an endless process that lasted years. Until, finally, she regained her speech.
Today, the woman who survived such a tremendous experience, the woman with a body that carries fragments of those murderous bullets, dedicates her life to the noble cause of educating others about the risks of guns and domestic violence. She always begins her presentations with a “Hi, I’m Pauletta Perez … My husband shot me a total of five times, four to the head.”