Domestic violence victims vigil on the Michigan Capitol Building steps on September 14, 2023 (photo: Anna Liz Nichols)
A coalition of community groups and Democratic lawmakers rallied support at events around the state Monday for a set of bills that would prohibit convicted domestic abusers from owning firearms in Michigan.
House Bills 4945 and 4946, both sponsored by state Rep. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw), would make it illegal for anyone convicted of felony or misdemeanor domestic violence to purchase or possess a firearm for eight years following their sentence.
The bills, which are under consideration by the House Criminal Justice Committee, would add Michigan to a group of 31 other states with similar laws if passed.
O’Neal said that for him, passing the legislation is a matter of common sense and is not up for a Second Amendment debate.
“I want to be a strong advocate, not just for my daughters, but for all women, and others who are victims of domestic violence,” O’Neal said. “If it’s been proven in court of law that a person is willing to violently abuse their family, then why should this person ever have access to a weapon?”
O’Neal was joined by organizers Chéree Thomas, associate director of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCEDSV); Tanesha Ash-Shakoor, president of the domestic violence awareness group Voices of Color; and Celeste Kanpurwalla, chapter lead of Moms Demand Action in Michigan. The virtual event also included Lisa Geller of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
The day of action also consisted of in-person events in Lansing, Royal Oak, Kalamazoo, Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Detroit.
Speakers stressed the connection between domestic violence deaths and gun possession. Geller said that a woman is five times more likely to be killed if her abuser has access to a firearm, and that men, who make up the majority of domestic violence offenders in the U.S., are more likely to use firearms.
Going further, Geller said that there are also links between violence that occurs in the home and that which occurs in public.
“I’ve done research on the intersection of domestic violence and mass shootings,” Geller said. “And what we found was that about two thirds of mass shootings in this country are related to domestic violence, either through the victims of those shootings being family or partners of the abuser, but also through a perpetrator’s history of domestic violence.”
Ash-Shakoor, who is a survivor of domestic violence, recounted how her abuser created an environment of constant fear that was exacerbated by his access to a gun.
“I used to love to vacuum my floors, because you will get those nice, crisp dark lines and it always made your house nice and clean,” Ash-Shakoor said. “But my abuser began to use that against me. And if he came home and those lines were lighter than typically would have been if they had been vacuumed, my footprints would then be accusations that I had been cheating.”
When he suspected she was cheating on him, he would attack and rape her, Ash-Shakoor said. She said that her abuser nearly killed her, and that she didn’t find out until later that he had a prior misdemeanor domestic violence conviction.
“He possessed a gun and he was actually going to murder me,” Ash-Shakoor said. “But he went on to become a police officer.”
If there had been a law on the books in Michigan like the one currently proposed by Amos and its counterparts in the state Senate when Ash-Shakoor was being abused, she said her abuser likely wouldn’t have been able to threaten her with gun violence.
“I don’t want anyone to have to experience what I have experienced,” Ash-Shakoor said. “I am living today, but I still live life in fear because he’s in the streets and I don’t know where he is.”
Current Michigan law prohibits only those convicted of felony domestic violence from possessing a firearm for three years after their sentence. Advocates say that expanding the restrictions to include misdemeanor convictions will protect from escalating threats of violence by repeat offenders of domestic abuse.
(A)bout two thirds of mass shootings in this country are related to domestic violence, either through the victims of those shootings being family or partners of the abuser, but also through a perpetrator’s history of domestic violence.
– Lisa Geller of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions
O’Neal said that expanding the current laws will help prevent repeated violent encounters between abusers and victims.
“If it’s a first or second offense, we need to let these individuals know that we’re not going to tolerate that,” O’Neal said. “You need to get help to mitigate this cycle from reoccurring time after time.”
Geller and Thomas emphasized that in spite of the pervasiveness of domestic violence in all types of communities, it’s not always taken seriously. Geller said that domestic abuse often goes unreported, and offenders are frequently able to plead out of a domestic violence charge in court.
“Domestic violence is often not taken seriously enough because it is viewed as private violence, or it is viewed as an issue that primarily affects women and women of color– groups that we know are not given the attention that they need when they are facing these public health crises and homicide crises,” Geller said.
Thomas said that passing the proposed legislation would represent a crucial step in preventing future abuse of anyone, not just women.
“Domestic violence is common in every community, and it shouldn’t be,” Thomas said. “It is insidious, and the likelihood of death increases when a gun is involved.”
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