On Oct. 18, 1999, our 19-year-old daughter, Maggie, was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in his dorm at Kalamazoo College. He then took his own life with the same rifle.
Maggie’s mother, Martha, and I tried to understand how Maggie could’ve died this way, how her killer obtained his gun and how warning signs were missed: this man was abusive and controlling in his relationship with Maggie and had threatened suicide. We learned too late that women in dating relationships in the United States, including Michigan, aren’t protected under the law.
In 2001, Martha testified about Maggie’s murder to the Michigan Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Task Force. Martha’s testimony, and that of other mothers, led to changes in Michigan law in 2002 — when protections under the domestic violence law to request a domestic violence protection order expanded to include victims of dating violence. Politicians worked across the aisle for this change, and we felt hope shining from the sadness of Maggie’s death.
Michigan has made progress, but there is much more to do to protect victims of domestic violence. Under federal law, people convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor cannot purchase or possess a firearm. But without a state law to mirror it, Michigan law enforcement officers cannot protect our communities. And the federal law only applies if the abuser was married to, lived with or has a child in common with the victim.
This gap in the law, known as the “boyfriend loophole,” allows a dating partner convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor to legally buy a firearm in Michigan. Research shows that closing this loophole is correlated with a reduction in domestic violence homicides. Still, Michigan has no such law.
But that could change if lawmakers support the Disarm Domestic Violence Abusers Act, HB 4497 and HB 4498, which awaits a hearing in the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. The bills would prohibit domestic abusers from possessing guns under Michigan law, allowing Michigan law enforcement officers to enforce the law and protect our communities. Most importantly to Martha and me, the bills would close the boyfriend loophole in Michigan, prohibiting abusive dating partners from possessing firearms.
As of 2010, more domestic violence homicides are committed by dating partners than by spouses, according to the Department of Justice. This shift reveals an alarming gap in our laws and their effectiveness in protecting people in abusive relationships.
We strongly urge Michiganders to call and write their elected representatives asking them to support the Disarm Domestic Violence Abusers Act, particularly Rep. Graham Filler and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield who can bring these bills up for a hearing. We need to tell them what the bills’ bipartisan cosponsors, Rep. Daire Rendon and Rep. John Churkin, already understand: protecting abused partners from gun violence is not a partisan issue.
We can prevent others from dying like Maggie. No mother or father should ever have to feel this heartbreak. This year, at the 20-year mark of Maggie’s death, Martha and I ask you to demand our lawmakers pass these bills.