Michigan Lawmakers Eye Bills to Protect Domestic Abuse Survivors and Prevent Suicide

Gun reform legislation supporters hold placards during a rally at the Michigan State Capitol in March. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

By Kyle Kaminski

August 3, 2023

After passing long-sought gun safety reforms earlier this year, Democrats in the Michigan Legislature are still looking for ways to curb gun violence—including new laws to keep guns out of the hands of violent domestic abusers, and to lower suicide rates.

LANSING—About one in every three women in Michigan have or will experience domestic violence—or worse—during an intimate relationship with their partner, according to statistics.

The most recent data available from the Michigan State Police shows there were more than 70,000 survivors of domestic violence in 2021, and at least 88 victims who died—most of them women killed by men with guns, according to Michigan Incident Crime Reporting data. And between 2012 and 2021, nearly 1,000 Michiganders were killed in a domestic violence incident.

Domestic violence also often goes unreported, and Democratic lawmakers know the situation is likely far more bleak than the incomplete statistics can show. But when legislators return from summer recess in September, they have plans to curb gun violence—and save more lives.

‘Save Lives and Protect Survivors’

More than half of the domestic violence homicides tracked in Michigan are committed with guns—and about 65% of women killed in domestic violence incidents were killed by a gun, according to an analysis from Everytown for Gun Safety. And for some state lawmakers, that’s a problem with an obvious solution: Violent domestic abusers shouldn’t have easy access to guns.

“We know that domestic violence is something that escalates, and having a gun in the situation really does increase the likelihood that someone may die” Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) told The ‘Gander. “There’s so much more we can do to help save lives and protect survivors.”

Michigan Lawmakers Eye Bills to Protect Domestic Abuse Survivors and Prevent Suicide

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) speaks in Lansing. (Michigan House Democrats via Facebook)

Chang said she plans to introduce legislation this fall that would make it illegal for Michiganders convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to purchase or possess a firearm for eight years. The rule—which already exists in federal law—would allow county prosecutors to better enforce the restriction and protect women from being killed as a result of domestic abuse, Chang said.

Michigan currently has no laws on the books that prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from buying or possessing guns and ammunition. In other words, there is nothing in state law to ensure that the federal restriction is actually enforced.

Only those convicted of felonies are barred from owning a gun for at least three years after completing their sentence.

Beginning next year, however, recent legislation will ensure those subjected to domestic violence protective orders or protective orders against stalking cannot obtain a firearm purchase license. 

Chang’s proposal aims to move the ball forward on the issue and further protect victims of domestic violence.

She said creating a new, eight-year firearm ban is “reasonable and appropriate, given what we know about domestic violence.” And because domestic violence almost always escalates in the severity of abuse, the legislation would inevitably save more lives in Michigan, Chang said. 

The legislation would also require courts to notify people when they become prohibited from possessing guns under state or federal law, as well as ensure those convicted of domestic violence have a place where they can temporarily surrender their guns for eight years. 

Chang and a group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced similar legislation last year, but it ultimately stalled out under Republican leadership. With Democrats now in charge of both the state House and Senate, she now expects the changes will pass swiftly into law later this year. 

“This is about preventing domestic violence,” Chang said. “This law would be another tool for prosecutors to help protect domestic violence survivors. So, in my mind, it’s a no-brainer.”

READ MORE: New State Laws Protect Survivors of Sexual Assault—and Punish Abusers

Chéree Thomas, deputy director at the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence, said the eight-year period would provide a new sense of comfort for survivors of domestic violence—and ensure the state can intervene before the abuse has a chance to turn deadly.

“I want to be clear: This is not about restricting guns for people who aren’t already harming people,” Thomas said. “This is only going to impact those who are causing harm to others.”

When Chang introduced the legislation last year, it gained instant bipartisan support—including from Republicans who consider themselves champions of Second Amendment gun rights, like former Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) and Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City). 

“We must come together to protect victims of domestic violence,” Schmidt said in a statement at the time. “By introducing these bills during National Domestic Violence Awareness month, we are highlighting gaps in state law that must be addressed to protect women and families.”

State Rep. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw), who co-sponsored the legislation in the House alongside Chang last year, told The ‘Gander that he’d be reluctant to support an eight-year prohibition on firearms for misdemeanor offenders this year—but still wants to explore what can be done. 

Chang said she hopes to continue the conversation as the bills head to the floor later this year.

“We’re trying to get this done in a good, bipartisan way,” Chang added.

‘Protect Yourself From Yourself’

About 1,500 Michiganders died by suicide in 2021—marking about one death every six hours. Most of them involved guns. And of the reported suicide attempts that involved guns in Michigan, about 90% ended in death, according to the state Suicide Prevention Commission

For state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), that’s about 1,500 suicides too many. And she thinks lawmakers can take action on new legislation this year that will save thousands of lives.

“I got involved in (gun safety reforms) because of suicide—not because of a driving need to do something about gun violence,” Bayer told The ‘Gander. “Obviously, the more I learned, the more I got involved, but suicide prevention has always been the biggest piece of this for me.”

Michigan Lawmakers Eye Bills to Protect Domestic Abuse Survivors and Prevent Suicide

State Rep. Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac, left, and State Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Keego Harbor, join hands during a news conference to call for gun reform, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

When Bayer returns to Lansing this fall, she said she plans to introduce a bill that would create a program where Michiganders—particularly those struggling with mental crises— can essentially volunteer to be placed on a temporary, statewide “do-not-sell” list for all firearms. 

Bayer said the upcoming legislation will be mirrored after Donna’s Law, and will be similar to bills that have been signed into law in Utah, Washington, and Virginia. The law is named for Donna Nathan, who bought a gun and killed herself after repeatedly seeking psychiatric care. 

The legislation will essentially serve as a safety net to help people help themselves. The extra barrier could give people time to rethink what could otherwise be a knee-jerk decision, she said.

“It’s a voluntary opportunity for folks who know they have suicidal ideas,” Bayer added. “It’s really just about being able to protect yourself from yourself. And at any time, you can turn it off.”

Bayer said she also plans to explore new options for those with suicidal ideations who would like to be able temporarily surrender their firearms while they seek mental health treatment. 

“There’s no punitive piece in this,” Bayer added. “This isn’t saying ‘you did something bad and therefore we’re taking your guns.’ That’s not it. That’s not it at all. We are literally just trying to help people who may be thinking about suicide. Guns are just so immediate, and so unforgiving. Not having them there at all is the best protection for people who are suicidal. It’s preventative.”

Officials at Giffords Gun Owners for Safety and End Gun Violence Michigan—which supported recent legislation to enact universal background checks, safe storage requirements, and extreme risk protection orders—also support the new legislative plans from Chang and Bayer.

READ MORE: Whitmer Signs Historic Legislation to Curb Gun Violence in Michigan

Lynna Kaucheck is the partnerships director for Progress Michigan, an organization that leads a gun violence prevention project called the Campaign for a Safer Michigan. She said the recent reforms will curb gun violence, but also argued there’s still much work to be done to save lives and prevent shootings—and that anything to curb domestic violence and suicide would be welcomed.

“We just have to do a better job taking care of each other,” Kaucheck said. “We’re never going to be able to save everybody out there, but we have to do the best that we can to at least try.”

Safer Communities 

As a former county prosecutor, public safety has long been a top priority of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s—especially on the campaign trail. Now, more than eight months into her second term, that focus on safety and gun violence prevention is clearly reflected in the state budget.

The budget, signed this week by Whitmer, provides more than $400 million for various public safety efforts statewide—including $172 million in grants that will go to local law enforcement agencies. About $18 million will also help train local police officers, and another $10 million will boost up training programs for the Michigan State Police to deploy at agencies across the state.

Michigan Lawmakers Eye Bills to Protect Domestic Abuse Survivors and Prevent Suicide

Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks to new troopers after providing the keynote address for the Michigan State Police’s 140th Trooper Recruit School. (Governor Gretchen Whitmer via Facebook)

Another $11 million included in the budget is dedicated to hiring, training and retaining cops, firefighters, and EMTs in local communities, as well as upgrading their facilities and equipment. And $14 million is set to make improvements (and install more cameras) in state prisons.

In the wake of recent gun safety reforms, the state is also investing about $7 million to create the Office of Community Violence Intervention Services to partner with community-based organizations that are already working to curb gun violence at the local level. Another $2.9 million is set to help the state implement a wide range of gun violence prevention policies.

A supplemental budget bill recently signed by Whitmer also included about $11 million geared toward helping communities continue to address gun violence for themselves. Most of that cash—about $8 million—will go out in grants to existing programs that are already in place.

More than $3 million will also go toward veteran housing and suicide prevention efforts.

READ MORE: ​​Here’s What’s In Michigan’s New Record-Setting State Budget

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or is in a crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or visit the Lifeline Chat to connect with a trained crisis counselor. Michigan also operates a 24/7 domestic violence hotline for survivors at 1-866-VOICEDV. 

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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