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‘I will do this ‘til my last breath’ 

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‘I will do this ‘til my last breath’ 

Sep 14, 2023 | 4:25 pm ET
By Anna Liz Nichols
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‘I will do this ‘til my last breath’ 
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Rick and Martha Omilian place a photo of their daughter Maggie in front of them as they speak to the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety Committee on September 14, 2023. (photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Rick and Martha Omilian placed a photo of their daughter, Maggie Wardle, in front of them as they asked lawmakers on Thursday to pass bills that would expand existing temporary restrictions on gun ownership for domestic abusers in Michigan.

The Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee heard testimony from the Omilians, as well as Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and other stakeholders in domestic violence policy at a hearing. Nessel and other advocates attended a domestic violence vigil on the Capitol lawn on Thursday morning. 

‘The tentacles of the trauma and grief go everywhere’

Rick Omilian told the story of how his stepdaughter was murdered 24 years ago at age 19 by an ex-boyfriend with a shotgun. Martha Omilian told lawmakers that even though talking about how violence and grief have infiltrated their lives is difficult, she will continue advocating for legislation to keep firearms out of the hands of abusers

“I will do this ‘til my last breath, because Maggie should still be able to be here,” Martha said.

The bills would take existing restrictions on gun ownership for those convicted of felonies and expand restrictions to misdemeanor convictions associated with domestic violence.

Currently, the law prohibits firearm possession for anyone convicted of a felony for three years after the completion of all aspects of their sentence. The prohibition is bumped up to a total of five years for specified felonies including those of burglary, threats or the use of physical force.

Senate Bills 471 and 472, both sponsored by state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), would create an eight-year prohibition on possession of firearms for misdemeanor convictions related to domestic violence.

Domestic violence can escalate, Chang said. Abuse can go from minor incidents at first to lethal attacks.

“The argument here is simple: When you have a gun in the situation where there’s an individual with a record of domestic violence, there is a much greater likelihood that the victim might die,” Chang said. “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.”

Abusers with access to firearms exact the most severe abuse on their victims, with risk of female victims dying increasing five-fold if their abuser has access to firearms, Chang said, citing a study from the American Journal of Public Health.

Under Michigan law, domestic assault — a misdemeanor currently not subject to firearms prohibitions — isn’t considered a felony until it happens a third time. Aggravated domestic assault, where a perpetrator “inflicts serious or aggravated injury” without intent to murder, isn’t a felony until it happens twice. 

One day after her office launched an Address Confidentiality Program in order to protect the home addresses of domestic violence survivors, Nessel offered her support for the bills, telling lawmakers at the meeting that the bills “will save lives.”

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

 

Everyone on the committee wants to help fight against domestic violence, Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) said, but he expressed concerns over violations of the Second Amendment.

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

Short stints of incarceration associated with the first incidents of domestic violence are not typically sufficient in mitigating harm for survivors, Michigan Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence Public Policy Specialist Heath Lowry said. And by helping in the prosecution of their abuser, the risk for retaliation increases exponentially for survivors.

“This serious increase in danger requires us to have an equally serious response to mitigate that danger,” Lowry said.

The committee did not vote on the bills Thursday.