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Michigan attorney general and survivors advocate for more gun restrictions on domestic abusers

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks in front of the capitol in support of tougher gun restrictions for domestic abusers. The crowd of activists placed 70 pairs of shoes to symbolize the women and children killed each year by domestic abusers with access to firearms in Michigan.
Wali Khan
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks in front of the capitol in support of tougher gun restrictions for domestic abusers

Demonstration comes as supporters prepare for a "day of action" Monday supporting tougher gun restrictions on domestic abusers.

Addison Collatz, a student at Michigan State, broke into tears as she spoke of her late teacher and mentor, Laura Wallen, who had been pregnant and murdered by her partner. Collatz stood next to dozens of domestic violence advocates on the capitol steps on Thursday during a vigil against domestic violence.

The vigil was held just an hour before the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee received testimony from Attorney General Dana Nessel, victims and various experts on domestic abuse policies. Most of those testifying were joined by Nessel at the vigil.

“Laura Wallen was a 31 year old teacher at Wilde Lake High School. She was a sister, a friend and a soon-to-be mother before her and her child's life was tragically ended by her boyfriend,” Collatz said, “Disarming domestic abusers statewide can prevent this from happening to any woman or their loved ones.”

"Miss Wallen did not get to see me graduate, she did not get to see me and many other students do the one thing that every teacher will see their students accomplish," Collatz said.

Nessel took to the podium and spoke on the inextricable link between firearms and domestic abuse.

“There is a clear, undeniable connection between domestic violence and firearms, and then assaultive conduct that follows domestic violence and firearms are a deadly combination and survivors are at the greatest risk of harm of potential homicide, after leaving an abusive relationship,” Nessel said.

The advocates and Nessel marched to the senate building where they testified before the Senate Civil Rights committee.

At the center of the hearing and vigil are Senate Bills 471 and 472— both sponsored by Stephanie Chang (D) — aimed at tackling the most fatal outcome of domestic violence. The bills would expand restrictions to misdemeanors associated with domestic abuse, creating an 8 year ban on firearm possession once convicted.

The senate did not vote on these bills Thursday.

Under current Michigan law, anyone convicted of a felony cannot possess a gun for three years after they fulfil all of the conditions of their sentence. The prohibition would be extended to five years for specific felonies including use of physical force, threats of physical harm, and burglary. Domestic assault is not classified as a felony until someone is charged three times, aggravated assault is classified as a felony after the perpetrator is charged twice.

Citing an American Journal of Public Health study, Chang pointed out women whose abusers have firearms are five times more likely to die.

“When there isn't a gun in that situation, lives can be saved and serious injury can be prevented. survivors of domestic violence endure unimaginable pain and betrayal. And it is our responsibility to ensure that they have the peace of mind knowing that they will be protected from threats of gun violence at the hands of their abusers,” Chang said.

Christin Perry, a licensed professional counselor who is a part of Giffords Gun Owners for Safety, told WKAR, “What I have seen as a therapist is that you see an escalation of violence, it might start with emotional abuse, somebody throwing something; maybe a mother is getting hurt, sometimes kids are hurt in the midst of that,” Perry said. “And then not only is that woman in danger, but those children are in danger as well.”

Perry brought up an emerging threat to American life. A USA TODAY analysis this year shows what experts are now calling "family annihilation" Family Annihilation is a form of familicide wherein someone murders family members in quick succession, in half of those cases, the shooter kills themselves.

Family annihilation is almost always carried out by men , and domestic abuse is considered a risk factor. There have been 225 family annihilations in the US since 2020, resulting in 750 deaths.

The bills to mitigate this damage have been met with resistance. Sen. Jim Runestad (R), who last year received a 100 % rating from the National Rifle Association, said he is concerned with Second Amendment Violations.

“Second Amendment rights are in the Bill of Rights… and thus are extremely important that when we’re dealing with a constitutional right, we get it correct,” Runstead said.

Runestad accused Democrats and various stakeholders of coordinating support, claiming he was not given sufficient notice about Thursday's hearing.

“We have a completely jam-packed committee hearing room here. I have… I think one person out of this jam packed committee hearing because the notification was so late,” he said. Chang retorted “many folks” were present because they have supported firearms safety across the political aisle.

Runestad then blamed the MSU Shooting on Carol Siemon, the liberal prosecutor who conservatives say allowed Anthony McRae, the MSU mass shooter, to plead guilty to a misdemeanor instead of a felony when he was charged with illegally carrying a concealed handgun. Legal experts have cast doubt on the allegation, saying plea deals are exceedingly common.

“[The MSU Shooter] was an individual who had a felony firearm felony that should have been prosecuted, it was pled down in a terrible case by the prosecutor who dropped the ball,” Runestad said. Six current GOP senators, not including Runestad, previously sponsored a bill allowing adults to carry concealed weapons without a permit in most places. The bill did not pass but if it had, McRae would not have been charged even with the lesser misdemeanor.

Rick and Martha Omilian testified Thursday, placing a photo of their daughter, Maggie Wardle, in front of the committee. Wardle was murdered 24 years ago when she was 19 by an ex-partner armed with a shotgun. The couple pleaded with legislators to pass the bill, saying the pain had seeped into all aspects of their life,

“This is not a violation of their rights, or a threat to those who are responsible gun owners. But it is a reasonable reaction to past behavior and the history of the abuser. That's what's at stake here,” Rick Omilian said into the mic, visibly emotional.

“It is very difficult,” Martha Omilian said, “But I will do this to my last breath.”

A statewide Day of Action to call for action on bills to protect domestic violence survivors from armed abusers is scheduled for Monday. Supporters will hold a press conference at the Grace Luthern Church, 528 North Martin Luther King Blvd at 10am. A Zoom event is scheduled for 1:00pm.

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