Michigan gun owners call for passage of bills preventing domestic abusers from owning firearms ⋆

A group of Michigan gun owners joined state Rep. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw) on Thursday to express support for a bill package that, if passed, would prohibit domestic abusers from owning or possessing firearms for eight years after sentencing.

Advocates from End Gun Violence Michigan and Giffords Gun Owners for Safety called for the passage of Senate Bills 471 and 472, which await a floor vote in the Michigan House. 

Kazia Kelly, a survivor of domestic violence who was threatened by her abuser with a gun, said that a law like this would have made her life drastically different.

“I know that had there been a law in place where I knew without a shadow of a doubt that [my abuser’s] guns would be removed and he’d not be able to go back to our local dealer, I would have left sooner,” Kelly said.

Ryan Bates | Screenshot

Kelly’s story of life with an abusive and violent spouse who threatened her with firearms is more common than many people might think. Ryan Bates, executive director of the statewide coalition End Gun Violence Michigan, said recent research shows that domestic violence is five times as likely to turn deadly when an abuser has access to a gun. 

“We’re here today because 70 Michigan women and children are killed every year by their abusers with a firearm, and nearly 40% of women of women will experience domestic violence or sexual assault in their lifetimes,” Bates said.

While she was fighting to protect her then two-year old daughter and survive breast cancer, Kelly said that the firearms present in her home made the process of leaving the abusive situation even more difficult. 

Now, she hopes that sending the bills to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk for approval will prevent others from having to experience what she did. 

“He said that he would kill me and my daughter if I ever left him,” Kelly said. “I was terrified because he owned several guns, including an assault rifle. I get so upset thinking about the time when I knew it was no longer safe to be in that home, but I didn’t feel safe to leave either. No one should have to feel that fear and uncertainty.”

Jon Gold, Michigan co-president of Giffords Gun Owners for Safety and a pistol instructor of 25 years, said that over the last two decades he’s spent volunteering to protect women and children escaping abusive situations, he’s learned how much more lethal a domestic abuser can be with access to a gun.

“I have sat at that hotel room door waiting for the monster who’s coming,” Gold said. “And I am telling you that the last thing we need are monsters who can kill at a distance or in an instant. No responsible gun owner should oppose this legislation.”

Rep. Amos O’Neal | Screenshot

The proposed legislation would make it illegal for even those with misdemeanor domestic violence charges to purchase or possess firearms for eight years, a distinction that O’Neal said makes all the difference.

“These bill packages are working on bringing Michigan law more in line with the federal protection allowing the state and local prosecutors to enforce misdemeanor domestic violence prohibitions,” O’Neal said. “And I think that’s very important.”

If passed by the House, the bills would be the latest in a string of gun violence prevention laws newly established by Michigan’s current Democratic trifecta. While some gun rights groups have decried any regulation of firearms at the state level, Christin Perry-Michalik, a gun owner and therapist, said she sees things differently. 

“I chose to own a gun to protect my family,” Perry-Michalik said. “I store that gun in a safe at all times, but I know I have the responsibility to remove that gun from my home if other factors make that firearm a tool of danger instead of a tool of protection. If I was a threat to someone, or if someone in my home was a threat to me, access to that firearm would have to be removed.”

Perry-Michalik works alongside Gold at Giffords Gun Owners for Safety, where they work with a coalition of hunters, sport shooters and firearm collectors to advocate for responsible gun ownership and violence prevention legislation.

“As gun owners, we know that with the great power of a firearm comes great responsibility,” Gold said. “None of us want to see someone abuse that power and hurt their family. There is absolutely no conflict between responsible gun ownership and protecting domestic violence survivors.” 

Christin Perry-Michalik | Screenshot

Perry-Michalik said that her background in mental health care has shown her firsthand how devastating the ripple effects of gun violence can be. More often than not, she said that firearms posed just as much, if not more of a threat than drugs or alcohol in situations of domestic violence.

“Mass shootings grab the headlines, but far more often it’s guns at home that pose the greatest threat,” Perry-Michalik said. “We don’t see the headlines of the catastrophic combination of guns and homes with abuse.”

As passage by the House is all that stands between the package and a signature from Whitmer, Kelly said leaders in Lansing have a responsibility to protect survivors and ensure that other families don’t have to endure what she and her daughter went through.

“I’m asking the House to close loopholes, to stay on with us, don’t ignore stories,” Kelly said. “My daughter’s name is Eleanor, and she deserves her safety and the safety of her mother.”

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authored by Lily Guiney
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