Law orders domestic violence abusers to turn in firearms

A couple of local lawmakers are not embracing a bill recently signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf providing stricter laws for those issued protection from abuse orders.

The legislation requires domestic violence abusers issued a final PFA or convicted of domestic charges to turn over their guns within 24 hours of receiving the PFA or sentencing.

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, said he couldn’t back the legislation.

“The burden of proof is a pretty low bar,” he said. “You may have threatened somebody. Under the PFA statute that can result in a PFA being ordered.”

Everett, an attorney, said PFA has been a tool used by families to gain custody of a child or have a spouse thrown out of the house.

He said he simply can’t support automatic confiscation of a weapon for a PFA under provisions of the law.

Previously, PFA violators have 60 days to relinquish their weapons, and proponents of the new law claim it allowed for numerous violations and left the victim at risk.

“We see horrific incidents happening across the country: mass shootings, murder-suicides and homicides where domestic violence is involved, which may have been prevented if laws like Act 79 were in place,” Amber Morningstar, program director of the YWCA Williamsport said. “With this law, we will see a profound increase in safety. We are grateful the law is on our side.”

The YWCA runs Wise Options, an organization reaching out to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other violent crimes with emergency shelter, legal advocacy and counseling services.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock, voted in favor of the legislation.

“Domestic violence can affect anyone,” he said. “Act 79 protects those individuals living in fear.”

Everett said the legislation was pushed by lawmakers from the southeastern part of the state in an election year.

He said it was as complex a bill as he’s seen come through the Legislature.

The numbers of school shootings may have played a part in the push for the bill, he noted.

“We got a lot of NRA members who said they would stay neutral on it,” he said.

State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, also voted against the bill.

He called it a tough vote for him, but ultimately felt that the 24-hour deadline for turning over a weapon due to a PFA violation puts the law enforcement authority charged with confiscating the weapon in a potentially dangerous situation.

The PFA offenders will be in no mood for giving up their weapons on such short notice.

“Why do you want to poke the bear?” he asked.

Wheeland also said counties are not prepared to maintain an inventory of weapons that will be confiscated.

And, he said he’s simply not sure the good intentions of the bill will occur.

“I could be wrong,” he said. “It could be one of these deals … if it saves a life, it was the right thing to do.”

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