KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan’s governor on Monday signed legislation that will stop convicted domestic abusers from owning guns.
Domestic violence homicides have surged in Kent County over the last two years. Advocates say this new law will help prevent more lives from being lost.
For 24 years now, Martha Omillian has lived without her daughter.
“No Mom needs to go to bed at night and feel like I feel. Every single night I fall asleep with this and I wake up with it,” Omillian said.
Maggie Wardle, whose life was cut short at only 19, was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in a Kalamazoo College dormitory.
In hopes of preventing other parents from experience their pain and loss, Wardle’s family has pushed for change to Michigan law in hopes of saving someone’s life, the chance Maggie did not get. Their aim is to make sure convicted abusers can’t get their hands on guns.
Monday afternoon, it finally came to fruition. Governor Whitmer was joined by Wardle’s family and other domestic violence advocates, survivors, and state leaders in Kalamazoo to sign into a law a package of bipartisan bills preventing abusers from buying, owning or transporting guns for eight years after their sentencing.
“These bills are based on a simple idea: If you have been found guilty in court for violently assaulting your partner, you should not be able to access a deadly weapon that you could use to further threaten, harm or kill them. It’s just common sense,” Whitmer said during the signing event in Kalamazoo.
Current state law already blocks abusers convicted of domestic violence felonies from owning a gun up to five years after their sentencing. But up until now, there has been no state law blocking those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from having a gun.
That will change when the law takes effect early next year, affecting offenses like assault and battery, stalking and vulnerable adult abuse. The legislation will ban those with domestic violence convictions from being able to buy, own or transport guns for eight years after their sentencing.
The governor argues this is a commonsense measure to keep survivors safe from their abusers.
“It’s unacceptable. We do not have to live like this. We’re making a choice, and we’re choosing to keep people safe,” said Whitmer.
The governor cited a number of “clear and shocking” statistics regarding domestic violence murders:
“We know that the most common killer of someone in a relationship is their partner. We know that nearly half of women in America are murdered by a current or former partner. Every month, an average of 70 women are shot and killed by their partner,” Whitmer listed. “We know that nearly 1 million American women have been shot or shot at by their partner and 4.5 million have been threatened by their partner by a gun. We know that women are five times more likely to be murdered when their abuser has a gun. And another distressing fact: women who are pregnant or who recently gave birth are more likely to be murdered by a partner with a firearm than die in pregnancy-related causes.”
Whitmer said the domestic violence restrictions are an addition to universal background checks, safe storage and red flag laws that Michigan Democrats, in control of both chambers of the state Legislature for the first time in decades, passed earlier this year.
In Kalamazoo County last year, more than 1,700 people reported domestic violence to police, with many more cases believed to be unreported.
“Kalamazoo is no different than Kent County is no different than anywhere else in the country. We’re seeing increasing rates of domestic violence,” Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said.
The law could face trouble from the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court is considering a case, United States vs Rahimi, challenging a federal law that bans people under domestic violence restraining orders from owning guns.
Legal experts have told News 8 it would take a very unique, conservative ruling to overturn Michigan’s law.
“They could decide the case in a way that would cause these new laws in Michigan would be unconstitutional. I don’t see them deciding the case that broadly,” Getting said.
News 8 asked the governor about that possibility. She didn’t address it directly, but argued the law is something communities can get behind.
“Domestic violence gun deaths are real and we know the data and that’s why this action I think makes sense,” Whitmer said.
The Supreme Court’s decision on the Rahimi case is expected by early this summer.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of domestic violence, there is help. To contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, call 1.800.799.SAFE or text START to 88788. Call 911 if you are in danger.