Lawmakers seek to keep guns out of abusers’ hands with new restrictions

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Survivors of domestic abuse could see additional protections from convicted abusers under newly proposed restrictions on gun ownership.

Four bills introduced in the House and Senate would prevent people convicted of misdemeanors involving domestic violence from accessing firearms until eight years after meeting the terms of their sentence. 

The policies would bring state law into alignment with federal law and would allow local and state authorities to enforce restrictions and keep firearms away from abusers, according to a news release from Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, a lead sponsor.

Michigan is currently in the minority, as 32 other states have passed legislation to ensure convicted abusers cannot own, access or possess firearms.

“When we can give law enforcement the ability to really know what they’re supposed to do in a situation and really know what is and is not legal, it usually makes their job just a little easier. If there’s a federal law that says that this person shouldn’t have a gun, but there’s no federal officer here to enforce that, then does the state officer feel fully empowered,” said Elinor Jordan, the senior law and policy manager with the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

The identical sets of bills received bipartisan support, with Chang and Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, as lead sponsors of the Senate bills and Reps. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, and Amos O’Neal, D-Saginaw, sponsoring the bills in the House.

Chang helped introduce a similar set of bills to the house in 2018 alongside Rendon and Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township and former Rep. Klint Kesto. While the bills didn’t move after ae committee hearing, this modified reintroduction is the first time they’ve received bipartisan sponsorship in both chambers, Chang said.

While there is a federal law in place, local prosecutors need tools as well, as they may be better positioned to handle domestic violence issues, Chang said.

“We hope that Michigan can be one of the states that joins so many others across the country that have passed these laws,” Chang said.

“Domestic violence is something that escalates, and it’s different from other crimes in that it’s literally the person you live with, and so we have to take it really seriously,” she said.

Abusers with access to a firearm are five times more likely to kill their female victim, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. 

“Just the fact that they have access to a gun increases lethality across the board. Somebody is more likely to get strangled if they’re in a relationship where they know the person has access to a gun,” Jordan said. 

“I had one client who, the perpetrator was not supposed to have a gun, but what happened was he just gave it to his mom. She would always say ‘no, the gun is still there.’ He had unchecked power over her because he still had access to that gun,” Jordan said.

Between 2015 and 2019, 91 women were fatally shot by a partner, according to EveryTown for Gun Safety, a national gun violence prevention group. Of all female victims of intimate partner homicide in the state, 66% are killed with a gun. 

The Senate bills were introduced in the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, of which Chang is the minority vice chair. The House bills were introduced in the Judiciary Committee. Both sets of bills are pending review. 

“I hope that people will be receptive. I know that there’s a lot of people who are supportive and hopefully they’ll be contacting their legislators to indicate that support,” Chang said.

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