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Domestic violence survivor advocates, lawmakers call for new firearm restrictions

 Advocates gather in Lansing in support of legislation that would tighten gun restrictions on people convicted of domestic violence.
Colin Jackson
Michigan Public Radio Network
Advocates gather in Lansing in support of legislation that would tighten gun restrictions on people convicted of domestic violence. (Photo: Colin Jackson/MPRN)

Advocates for survivors of intimate partner violence are calling for the passage of new legislation aimed at preventing abusers from possessing a firearm within eight years of their sentence.

Supporters say the bill package would apply to those guilty of both felony and misdemeanor charges involving domestic violence.

Current state law only limits the ability to carry a gun for certain felony convictions.

The Rev. Christin Fawcett is with the group Moms Demand Action. She says that’s not enough.

“The vast majority of domestic violence convictions are misdemeanors. Domestic violence is usually undercharged or pled down if it’s charged at all,” Fawcett said during a press conference Monday morning in Lansing.

The Lansing event was organized by a coalition of gun-control and domestic violence advocacy groups. It was part of a media tour with stops across the state and an online press conference to build support for the legislation.

Tanesha Ash-Shakoor, a domestic violence survivor and president of the group Voices of Color, spoke to reporters via Zoom on Monday afternoon. She said the bill package was necessary because there are several ways charges don’t necessarily reflect the domestic violence nature of a case.

“There are so many times that a domestic violence situation never is even charged as a domestic violence because they’re allowed to plea that down to something else,” Ash-Shakoor said. “It starts from the time the police show up, if it’s not documented properly, it’s just a long cycle.”

The proposed legislation would use a three-prong test to determine whether a misdemeanor qualifies as “involving domestic violence.”

First, it would be punishable by less than a year in prison. Second, it would fall under a list of offense including assault and battery, stalking, and fourth degree criminal sexual conduct. Third, the victim and the convicted person would have to have a relationship that meets certain requirements spelled out in the package.

Critics of the legislation, however, say the criteria is too broad.

Tom Lambert is with the group Michigan Open Carry. He questioned the connection between all of the listed misdemeanors and violence.

“You have misdemeanor assault, which is one of the misdemeanors in the sections listed. What about making … an unsolicited commercial call after the hours of 9 p.m., another misdemeanor listed?” Lambert said.

He continued to say he had several constitutional concerns over the legislation. Those include First Amendment concerns over parts of the legislation referencing certain communication between parties, Second Amendment concerns over gun ownership rights, and Fourth Amendment concerns over searches and seizures.

One area where he said he hoped to see progress on lawmakers changing the legislation would be to clarify a gun owner’s right to sell their gun if they no longer are able to own it.

But supporters of the legislation argue it’s not a gun issue but a matter of public safety and doing right by domestic violence survivors. Multiple speakers Monday referenced an academic study that found nearly three-fifths of mass shootings involved domestic violence in some fashion.

Shantel Rodriguez is a domestic violence survivor and advocate. She said facing abuse often puts survivors and their families in a state of hypervigilance.

“So why not then, as a community, as a society, take a small step to collectively attempt to diminish that hypervigilance for survivors, to acknowledge survivor’s experiences and attempt to secure a small amount of peace of mind.”

The bill package is split into four bills, two introduced in the Senate and two mirror bills introduced in the House of Representatives.

The Senate bills saw their first committee hearing last week. The House Criminal Justice Committee chair said she plans to hold a hearing on them in her committee within the next two weeks.

Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.