Advocates leery of Michigan’s domestic abuse gun laws
Lansing — Michigan lags behind some other states when it comes to laws meant to keep guns from domestic abusers, some advocates for stricter gun control say.
More than a dozen states in the past two years strengthened laws that would keep guns from domestic abusers. But Michigan has no legal mechanism to ensure those who are barred from owning guns in domestic abuse cases under federal or state law actually don’t have them, said Michigan State University law professor April Zeoli.
“Effectively, if you have a firearm, nobody’s gonna try to get it from you, even if you are prohibited from having one,” Zeoli said.
An estimated 184 people in Michigan were victims of domestic gun homicide from 2006 to 2014, according to an analysis of FBI data by The Associated Press. Nearly 28 percent of those victims were from Detroit, which had 51 of those cases.
Of the Michigan homicide victims, 138 were women.
Overall, the Michigan State Police listed more than 87,800 domestic violence offenders in its 2014 report, the latest one available.
Federal law prohibits domestic abusers who are married, formerly married or who were living with the victim, from purchasing handguns. But those same individuals can still own and buy rifles or other firearms in Michigan, and people who sexually abused strangers don’t lose firearm rights, Zeoli said. She said she doesn’t think current laws go far enough to protect victims.
In 2013, Michigan saw more than 14,000 domestic violence restraining order cases in which judges had the discretion to strip offenders’ rights to own guns before the respondent has a chance to contest that order. But no laws ensure that ownership bans are enforced, Zeoli said.
Rep. Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park, introduced two bills last year that would have created a restraining order specifically for guns, but the legislation got stuck in the House Judiciary Committee the same day it was introduced, according to state documents.
The bills would have stopped abusers or other potentially violent people from owning firearms at the request of a family member, friend, spouse or partner, if approved by a judge. The respondent would still have due process, Wittenberg said.
“In my mind this is a common sense solution in instances where people make threatening remarks and we have to take them seriously. And this is a way to stop, hopefully, bad things from happening,” Wittenberg said.
He said he hopes for a committee hearing for the legislation this year. But in a Republican-controlled Legislature, it’s unlikely to get much traction.
Committee Vice Chairman Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, said judges already have enough discretion in determining whether offenders should have guns in abuse cases, and police can seize those weapons on a judge’s order. He also said law enforcement should be hesitant when it comes to removing guns from those who were accused but not yet convicted. He said guns should only be removed when the owner poses a clear threat to someone.
“If somebody has guns in the house and they have only been accused one time … do we start removing all the guns? Just to arbitrarily say, ‘Take the guns out in every case’, I don’t know if we have rights to do that in every case,” Lucido said.
Last year Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill that would have allowed some domestic violence abusers and stalkers to carry concealed handguns, a measure that outraged some gun control advocates.
An average of 690 Americans were killed with guns annually by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners between 2006 and 2014, according to an analysis of FBI data by AP. That figure is an undercount because not all departments report such information, and it doesn’t include children and other bystanders who were killed. More than 80 percent of those killed were women.
Kathy Hagenian, policy director for the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, said she thinks Michigan “has some good laws on the books” to keep domestic abuse victims safe from gun violence. But she said the state could do more.
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