House Democrats spent Wednesday staging a historic sit-in to try to force a vote on a gun control measure, a vote that didn’t happen when the GOP opted to adjourn early and flee the Capitol. Late last night, Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan made an emotional plea for gun control, based on her chilling experiences growing up with a father she’s described as armed and emotionally unstable.

In her remarks, Dingell vividly described a terrifying scenario:

I lived in a house with a man that should not have access to a gun. I know what it’s like to see a gun pointed at you. And wonder if you are going to live. And I know what it’s like to hide in a closet and pray to God, “Do not let anything happen to me.” And we don’t talk about it, we don’t want to say that it happens in all kinds of households, and we still live in a society where we will let a convicted felon who was stalking somebody, of domestic abuse, still own a gun.

Dingell has spoken previously about her father, who she says had undiagnosed mental health issues and physically threatened her mother. In a 2012 op-ed for the Washington Post, she recalled getting between her parents and trying to grab her father’s gun:

I will never forget that night. The shouting. The fear. The raw terror that we would all die, my brother and sisters along with my parents. My calling for help but the police not coming; my parents were important people in town. My mother running out of the house. I locked my brother and sisters in a bedroom and pushed a bed against the door. My father broke in, took the door off the hinges and pulled the phone from the wall. He took the knobs off all the doors, so we could not get out and no one could get in.

The aftermath, she wrote, lasted for years:

We survived that occasion, physically. Emotionally, I am not so sure. My baby sister, Mary Grace, was supposed to start first grade the next day. I walked her to school because I believed in trying to be normal, to keep everything together. She died several years ago, after suffering all of her life from demons that haunted her. I cannot help but think that night was the source of many of them.

In her remarks during the sit-in, Dingell also mentioned her husband John Dingell, who’s long disagreed with her on gun restrictions: “He’s the most important thing in my life. And yet for 35 years, there’s been a source of tension between the two of us. He is a responsible gun owner. He believes in the Constitution. I don’t want to take his gun away or anybody else’s gun.”

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Dingell proposed legislation last July to strengthen restrictions on domestic abusers being able to buy guns; she particularly wanted to make sure convicted stalkers couldn’t purchase firearms. That measure also died.


Dingell in April 2016. Photo via AP