Rep. Debbie Dingell gets personal in plea for gun vote

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, invoked a personal experience in her childhood with gun violence during a sit-in on House floor by Democrats in the chamber that began on Wednesday and continued into Thursday morning in a bid to force a vote on a gun control measure.

“I lived in a house with a man that should not have had access to a gun,” Dingell said in a floor speech that began after midnight Wednesday. “I know what it is like to see a gun pointed at you and wonder if you were going to live. And I know what it is like to hide in the closet and pray to God ‘Do not let anything happen to me.’ ”

“We don’t talk about it,” she continued. “We don’t want to say that it happens in all kinds of households and we still live in a society where we will let a convicted felon who was stalking somebody of domestic abuse still own a gun.”

The first-term lawmaker’s comments came before the Republican-controlled House early Thursday morning took a series of votes on other legislation and then adjourned early for a July 4 break.

Michigan Dems join House sit-in to demand gun vote

The Democratic sit-in was trying to force a vote on legislation that would prevent people who are listed on the federal “No-Fly” watch list for potential terrorists from buying guns in the wake of mass killings like the recent club shooting in Orlando, Florida.

Republicans have opposed the legislation because they say those on no-fly lists are merely under suspicion and have not been accused or convicted of crimes. They said there have been many instances of people mistakenly being put on the list, which takes a long time from which to get removed.

The Democratic legislation is also opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has argued that the nation’s “watch-listing system is error-prone and unreliable because it uses vague and overbroad criteria and secret evidence to place individuals on blacklists without a meaningful process to correct government error and clear their names.”

Dingell has spoken out about the connection between domestic abuse and gun control before.

Last year, almost two weeks after taking office, she urged Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to veto a Legislature-approved bill that would allow some domestic abusers to obtain concealed weapons permits.

The Dearborn Democrat raised her personal history in urging the second-term Republican governor to veto a bill backed by the National Rifle Association. He ended up vetoing the legislation.

“As someone who lived for years in an environment that could erupt violently at any point, I recognize provisions in this legislation as a serious threat to protecting Michigan women, children and communities, and quite frankly even men,” Dingell wrote.

“Emotions in volatile and mentally unstable situations are unpredictable and far too often have disastrous outcomes. I will not forget the nights of shouting. The fear. The dread that my brother, my sisters and my parents would die.

“I will not forget locking ourselves in closets or hiding places hoping we wouldn't be found. Calling for help, but finding no one willing to help, to acknowledge the problem, or intervene.”

The National Rifle Association urged Snyder to sign the bills that allowed people with restraining orders to get licenses if the judge who issued the order doesn't explicitly ban the licenses.

Snyder said in his veto message that the bills contained reforms to Michigan’s concealed weapons law that he supported, but included some changes that might inadvertently increase the risk of violence and intimidation faced by domestic abuse victims who seek court protection.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with signing these bills with the possibility that ... someone that has a protective order on them could essentially go get a concealed weapon,” Snyder said at a mid-January 2015 Lansing news conference for a different bill signing.

Dingell was joined in the sit-in by Michigan Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, John Conyers of Detroit and Sander Levin of Royal Oak.

Dingell said she was reluctant to speak about her experience with guns during her childhood until the shooting of 20 school children at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school in late 2012.

“I didn’t talk about what I grew up with for many years,” she said. “It took Newtown, and I went and wrote an op-ed. People knew I did not like guns. I probably said as a child some really stupid things, although many of you probably would have agreed with what I said. I know now that we can't stay silent any longer. We have to do something.”

Dingell, said her husband, former Rep. John Dingell, is a gun owner with whom she has disagreed about the need for gun control before.

“I married a man, you all know how much I love John Dingell,” she said. “He is the most important thing in my life. And for 35 years, there has been a source tension between the two of us. He is a responsible gun owner, he believes in the Constitution. I don't want to take his gun away or anybody else's gun.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing