Whitmer signs new laws to protect domestic abuse survivors

By Kyle Kaminski

November 20, 2023

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a series of bills into law that aim to keep guns out of the hands of violent abusers. Advocates say they’ll help protect survivors—and stop domestic violence before it has a chance to turn deadly. 

MICHIGAN—Legislation that aims to strengthen protections for survivors of domestic violence is officially set to become law after getting a signature from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week.

The new laws—which will take effect in February—bar those convicted of domestic violence from buying, owning, or transporting a gun for a period of eight years after their sentence. In a statement, Whitmer said the “common-sense gun violence prevention bills” will help ensure that violent criminals cannot harm others and that survivors are protected from further violence.

“Keeping Michiganders—especially young women—safe and healthy is a top priority, and these bills will take long overdue steps to protect individuals from abuse,” Whitmer said in a statement. “As a former prosecutor, I am proud to sign this bipartisan legislation to prevent abusers from accessing firearms. Together, we can make Michigan a safe and welcoming place for everyone.”

Under current state law, only those convicted of felonies are banned from possessing, using, buying, or carrying a gun in Michigan. But under three bills from Democratic state lawmakers, that statewide ban will expand next year to include those who have been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence charges, for a period of eight years after their sentence ends.

The bills were passed in the state Senate last month and approved in the House this month. Almost every Republican lawmaker voted against them—including House Minority Leader Matt Hall, who once threatened to shoot another student with a shotgun when he was in college.

In a statement, state Rep. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw) described the new laws as “monumental.”

“It has been a long road to get here, as this was the second time I introduced this legislation,” O’Neal said. “Michigan is continuing to take steps to protect its people—all people. Today we are enshrining safeguards to protect domestic violence survivors from gun violence. It only makes sense that this law is on the books to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals.” 

Co-sponsoring Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) told The ‘Gander in August that the eight-year ban seemed “reasonable and appropriate, given what we know about domestic violence.”

Federal statistics show there were 341 domestic violence homicides in Michigan between 2003 and 2012. Of those, more than half of the victims were killed with guns. Research also shows access to a gun makes it five times more likely that an abusive individual will kill their partner.

Nearly half of all women murdered in the United States are killed by a current or former intimate partner, and because domestic violence almost always escalates in the severity of abuse, Whitmer and state lawmakers believe the legislation will inevitably save more lives.

READ MORE: Bills to disarm abusers to curb ‘lethal cycle’ of domestic violence

“Domestic violence is a serious problem in our state. We know from the data and from hearing directly from survivors that domestic violence and firearms are a deadly mix,” Chang said in a statement after the bills were signed. “After many years of work on this legislation to protect domestic violence survivors from firearm death or injury, I am happy that this day is finally here.”

At least 31 other states have passed similar laws to temporarily disarm those convicted of domestic abuse. Rick and Martha Omilian, volunteers with Moms Demand Action, said the legislation may have saved their daughter’s life, had it existed when she was killed in 1999.

“After nearly a decade of advocacy, we’re honored to see this lifesaving bill—a bill that will save many others—signed into law,” the couple said in a joint statement this week.

Under the bills, those convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor would regain the opportunity to possess, use, purchase, or carry a firearm after the eight-year period expires.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed—and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed—additional legislation to help reduce gun violence in Michigan, namely by ensuring that guns are kept out of the hands of children and young teenagers, and requiring background checks for gun sales.

Additional firearm-related legislation passed by state lawmakers this year will also enable judges to temporarily confiscate guns from those deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Those laws are also set to take effect in February. 

State Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) also told The ‘Gander she plans to pursue legislation that would create a program where Michiganders—particularly those struggling with mental crises—can volunteer to be put on a temporary, statewide “do-not-sell” list for firearms.

READ MORE: Domestic Violence May Be Getting More Deadly in Michigan

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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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