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MLive: Dingell touts legislation to keep guns out of hands of abusers, stalkers during Ann Arbor visit


Washington, DC, November 12, 2015 | Ryan Stanton
Tags: Women

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, speaks openly about her childhood experiences with domestic violence.

The congresswoman recalls many ugly fights between her parents, including one particular night when her father almost shot her mother. She remembers stepping between them and trying to grab the gun.

She said her father was a troubled man with mental health issues, possibly bipolar disorder, and having guns in the house wasn't a good situation.

"Emotions in volatile and mentally unstable situations are unpredictable and far too often have disastrous outcomes," Dingell wrote in a letter to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder earlier this year. "I will not forget the nights of shouting. The fear. The dread that my brother, my sisters and my parents would die. I will not forget locking ourselves in closets or hiding places hoping we wouldn't be found."

Two days after Dingell sent the governor that letter, Snyder vetoed legislation approved by the Michigan Legislature and backed by the National Rifle Association that Dingell had argued would have allowed concealed-weapons permits to be issued to individuals with a history of violence and abuse.

Dingell is now fighting the issue in Congress.

During a Thursday afternoon visit to the Ann Arbor area, Dingell met with the staff of the SafeHouse Center for survivors of sexual and domestic abuse.

"I've lived some of what you all are helping people through," Dingell told the center's staff. "My father tried to kill us. I called the police; they didn't come."

Dingell also recalled how her now-deceased sister was in a physically abusive relationship.

"I want you to know that I'm an advocate for you," she told the SafeHouse staff, asking what she can do to help.

Dingell has introduced legislation, the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act, that she says would close loopholes that allow abusers and stalkers to access guns.

The legislation has remained in committee for months, but Dingell is hoping to see Congress take action on it at some point.

While federal law prohibits someone from owning a gun if they are convicted of abusing a spouse, or abusing someone with whom they live or with whom they have a child, it does not include people who have abused a dating partner.

Dingell said her legislation would close that loophole and ensure people who have abused dating partners are prohibited from buying or owning guns.

She said it also would make sure that convicted stalkers cannot legally purchase a gun. She said stalking is sadly an accurate predictor of future violence.

With an annual budget of nearly $2 million, SafeHouse serves survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and their children.

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