MSU students and activists demand gun reform following the Feb. 13, 2023 mass shooting at Michigan State University, Feb. 15, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins
Legislation that will extend gun restrictions to those who are convicted of domestic violence-related misdemeanors is on its way to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her signature following passage Wednesday by the Democratic-led Michigan House.
Senate Bill 471, sponsored by state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Senate Bill 528, sponsored by state Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.), and House Bill 4945, sponsored by state Rep. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw), all passed 58-52, with Reps. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills) and Tom Kuhn (R-Troy) joining all Democrats to make it a bipartisan effort.
Currently, those convicted of a felony are barred from possessing, carrying or distributing firearms for a three year period after they have completed the stipulations of their sentence. The ban can last as long as five years in the case of “specified felonies” such as those involving threats or use of physical force.
The legislation passed Wednesday extends that ban to eight years and adds specific misdemeanors as being considered involving domestic violence, including breaking and entering and vulnerable adult abuse, if the violator were the victim’s spouse or former spouse, had a dating relationship with the victim, had a child in common with the victim, or was a resident or former resident of the victim’s household.
Speaking against the legislation, however, was Rep. Josh Schriver (R-Oxford), who listed a series of what he called “petty misdemeanors” that would result in individuals “losing their right to defend themselves with a firearm for more than eight years.” Among those examples were “a girl pushing or shoving her former roommate at a college reunion,” an “ex-girlfriend using her key to get into her boyfriend’s house to grab her things without his permission,” and “an ex-girlfriend smashing her boyfriend’s pumpkins on his front porch.”
“I don’t recommend doing any of the above,” he said, “They’re crimes, but they’re petty misdemeanors and shouldn’t cause individuals to become sitting ducks for violent criminals by losing their right to defend themselves for more than eight years. If you care about mercy, if you care about justice, if you care about your sacred oath to the Constitution, then to honor it to the best of your ability, so help you God, you’ll vote no on this package.”
O’Neal responded by saying the legislation was about protecting victims from those who have already displayed a propensity for violence.
“It’s for the well-being of our communities and the safety of our people,” he said. “We are setting standards for folks and that standard is, ‘We will not tolerate violence.’ and I repeat that, ‘We will not tolerate violence, period.’”
O’Neal then noted that statistics indicate 1 in 4 homicides in the U.S. is related to domestic violence.
“We see these numbers,” he said. “We know the capacity of the guns in the hands of those who wish to do harm. It is not easy for anyone to lose a loved one throughout this legislative process. Madam Speaker, we’ve heard testimonies about those who were victims to tragic fates, tragic domestic abuse that ended in deadly ways. It is important to implement this legislation to prevent convicted, I’ll emphasize again, convicted domestic abusers from possessing lethal weapons that can escalate their behavior.”
Kelly Dillaha, Michigan director of the women’s advocacy organization Red, Wine & Blue, called passage of the bills a “huge victory” for survivors of domestic violence.
“As a child, I lived through the traumatic experience of domestic violence with a gun,” she said. “I’m so relieved and proud that fewer little girls will have to live through that same nightmare. Today, we’re giving domestic violence survivors the hope and safety they deserve.”
The advocacy organization End Gun Violence Michigan noted that passage of the legislation capped off a “historic year” for gun safety legislation in Michigan, including for safe storage of firearms, universal background checks, and red flag laws.
Gun reform activists had mobilized after two school shootings in the last two years at Oxford High School in November 2021 and Michigan State University in February.
“Enormous credit is due to Senator Stephanie Chang and Representative Amos O’Neal,” said Executive Director Ryan Bates. “They championed these bills for years, and provided the leadership necessary to make them law. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for their commitment and perseverance.”
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, each month an average of 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner, while access to a gun makes it five times more likely that a woman will die at the hands of her abuser. Additionally, in Michigan 65% of women killed by intimate partner homicide are killed with a gun.
Also hailing the bills’ passage was Moms Demand Action, whose executive director, Angela Ferrell-Zabala, noted that it comes less than a week before the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in United States v. Rahimi, a case seeking to strike down a federal law prohibiting violent abusers from possessing firearms.
“In a country where access to a firearm makes it five times more likely an abuser will kill his female victim, this legislation is a necessary step towards preventing deadly gun violence,” said Ferrell-Zabala. “With oral arguments in Rahimi just days away, Michigan gun sense leaders are exemplifying how we can meaningfully protect domestic violence victims ahead of a potential death sentence from the Supreme Court. We applaud the state legislature and our grassroots army for getting this bill across the finish line, and urge other lawmakers to join Michigan in their steadfast commitment to keeping our communities safe.”
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