Setting record straight

On Oct. 12, Gov. Wolf signed Act 79 legislation that promptly and securely disarms dangerous domestic abusers. This common sense legislation was endorsed by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The NRA – rarely neutral on any firearm bill – participated in negotiation of the bill and adopted a neutral stance on it. Sen. Gene Yaw supported it in the Senate, where it passed with 86 percent of the vote. In the House, the bill passed with a 65 percent majority. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Everett supported this legislation; we were disappointed to see him change his mind when it came time to vote on the floor.

Despite the bill’s widespread support, misleading information has been circulated about it, specifically regarding provisions to disarm abusers placed under final protection from abuse orders (PFAs). Comments from Reps. Everett and Jeff Wheeland in your Dec. 20 article exemplify such misinformation. It is time to set the record straight.

First, there are different kinds of PFAs and Act 79 of 2018 applies only to subjects of final PFAs, not to subjects of temporary or emergency PFAs. Subjects of final PFAs have been afforded full constitutional due process, including notice of the alleged abuse, the right to an attorney, the right to a hearing before an impartial judge, and the right to present and cross-examine evidence. It is not correct that “the burden of proof is a pretty low bar,” as Rep. Everett claims. Abusers placed under final PFAs have had ample opportunity to establish the claim against them is unwarranted. The bill includes penalties for victims who file false abuse petitions.

Second, prior to Act 79, subjects of final PFAs did not automatically relinquish weapons. They did so only at the discretion of a judge. This happened on average only 14% of the time, and even when it did these dangerous abusers were allowed to turn firearms over to neighbors, friends, and relatives. Pennsylvanians such as Deborah Raimondi, shot and killed by her estranged husband in front of her three children on Jan. 18, 2008 in Butler County; Tina Souders, shot and killed in front of her mother and two sons on Feb. 21, 2011 by her ex-boyfriend; and 2-year old Michael Ayers, shot and killed by his father on March 21, 2013 in Huntingdon County might all be alive today had these abusers – each of whom was the subject of a final PFA – been ordered to turn firearms over to sheriffs or licensed dealers. Moving forward, Act 79 of 2018 will correct this dangerous situation.

Third, violent people who violate laws need to be held accountable. It is irrelevant whether subjects of final PFAs “will be in no mood for giving up their weapons” and we should avoid “poking the bear,” as Rep. Wheeland claims. In no other situation do people who violate the law determine whether and how our laws will be enforced. Further, we owe it to our law enforcement officers, who put their lives on the line every day, to make sure these people are disarmed. Domestic violence calls consistently present the greatest risk of death to first responders and they should not have to make such calls to homes where there are known abusers whom we have failed to disarm simply because they were not “in the mood for giving up their weapons.” Act 79 will finally provide our officers some relief.

Act 79 is life-saving legislation, supported by law enforcement associations, advocates for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and law-abiding Pennsylvanians. We are grateful to Pennsylvania legislators who joined from both sides of the aisle and to Gov. Wolf for working to keep our families and law enforcement officers safer from known domestic abusers.

Elizabeth Harris, Montoursville

Jessica Munson, Williamsport

Mary Wright, Williamsport

Submitted by E-Mail