Susan J. Demas: Congressional Shooting Shows Why Domestic Abusers Don’t Deserve Guns

  Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

The horrific shooting at a Republican congressional softball practice outside Washington, D.C., hit especially close to home in Michigan.

Three members of Congress were present and thankfully unhurt — U.S. Reps. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), John Moolenaar (R-Midland) and Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet). But one of the five people shot was Michigan native Matt Mika, a former state and congressional legislative staffer.

The tragedy has inspired rare bipartisan unity, with touching speeches from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif).

In the days and weeks that follow, the shooting will inevitably spark debates on heated partisan rhetoric, security for politicians and guns. (Indeed, they’re all in full swing on social media, but hopefully the national dialogue will improve from all-caps rants from randos with anime avatars on Twitter).

At this point, few people believe we’ll ever see any common ground on gun rights in this country. If the brutal 2012 murders of angelic first-graders in Newtown, Conn., didn’t move the needle with gun rights advocates in Congress, it’s not clear what will.

But there is something about this week’s shooting that is all too familiar. The alleged gunman, James Hodgkinson, had a history of beating his daughter and other young women. Researchers note that a history of domestic violence is a key predictor of violent recidivism.

Hodgkinson was no stranger to the justice system. But the Daily Beast reports that his history “did not rise to the level to prohibit him from legally owning a firearm.”

I am not sure who on God’s green earth can argue without vomiting that someone who beats their spouse or kids should have the inalienable right to carry a firearm.

But don’t take my word for it. Talk to another Michigan member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn). She’s not anti-Second Amendment; her husband, former Dean of the House John Dingell, is an avid hunter. But Congresswoman Dingell knows firsthand what it’s like to live with a violent gun owner.

In a 2012 op-ed for the Washington Post, she somberly detailed the night that her father almost shot her mother while she tried to wrest the gun away, while noting it wasn’t an isolated incident:

“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. Calling for help, but finding no one willing to help, to acknowledge the problem, or intervene. We survived that occasion, physically. Emotionally, I am not so sure.”

Just as Dingell was preparing to be sworn into her first term in Congress in 2015, she shared her experience again with Gov. Rick Snyder. The Legislature had sent him a bill that would have allowed domestic abusers to obtain a concealed pistol license. She urged the governor to veto it and he did.

Now the state House has, once again, passed a string of legislation liberalizing gun laws, and the stage could be set for another showdown between Snyder and GOP lawmakers.

Sadly, there’s been scant interest in efforts barring domestic abusers from owning firearms. No one should bet their inheritance on the congressional softball shooting changing the debate in Washington or Lansing.

But it’s rather unbelievable that many politicians are willing to go to such lengths to protect the rights of those who bloody those dearest to them, which is often a prelude to their crimes against others. It might be worth thinking about why that’s a price they’re willing to have us all pay.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.