After Parkland, Florida, high school shooter Nikolas Cruz was found to have had a history of domestic violence, Pennsylvania legislators introduced a bill calling for those convicted of domestic abuse to give up their guns.
Under Pennsylvania’s current law, those abusers have 60 days to do so — or they can give the guns to a relative or a friend. If they are subject to a protection from abuse order, which is a civil infraction, it’s up to a judge whether they must relinquish their firearms.
The bill passed the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously in March, but the House version never came up for a vote. Now, after the summer recess, Democrats in the House and advocates of the bill are pushing Republican leaders to bring the bill to a vote.
House Bill 2060 would tighten the 60-day window to 24 hours. And it would require that weapons be turned over to secure facilities, such as law enforcement agencies or gun dealers. Those dealers could lose their licenses if they gave the weapons back to someone who is barred from owning a gun. The bill would also require those subject to protection from abuse orders to turn in their weapons.
In 2017, the percentage of domestic violence victims killed with a gun was higher than in any other year — 78 out of 117 domestic violence fatalities in Pennsylvania were committed using a firearm.
Cathy Stone runs the Domestic Abuse Project of Delaware County. As a survivor of domestic violence, she said she can think of more than one time when access to a gun would have made all the difference to her former husband.
“If he had his gun in his hand, he would have used it,” she said.
Stone and others say that the numbers speak for themselves — one in three women experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner, and that violence is five times more likely to be fatal if a gun is involved. Because of these statistics, activists say domestic violence should be considered a public health issue, not a partisan issue.
But legislators didn’t see it that way this summer. After the Senate passed its version of the bill, the House Judiciary Committee approved a different rendition in June. But the bill never came up for a vote on the House floor.
State Rep. Leanne Krueger Braneky, a co-sponsor, said she has a guess why House Majority Leader Dave Reader or House Speaker Mike Turzai didn’t bring it to a vote.
“The gun lobbyists have a stranglehold on our state legislature, it’s time for people to say no more,” said Krueger Braneky, D-Delaware.
Firearms Owners Against Crime had agreed to stay neutral on the Senate bill, but the House version was different, and group member Kim Stolfer said it could violate Second Amendment rights and the right to due process.
Having to turn over guns within 24 hours is unrealistic, and penalties for missing that deadline are too strict, said Solfer. His group recommends a 72-hour period during which firearms must be relinquished. Advocates push for the shorter window because research has found that the time immediately after a victim of domestic abuse has left the relationship is when she or he is most vulnerable to violence.
Stolfer said he was confident that activists for domestic violence awareness were responsible for the 24-hour provision, while the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that staffers of conservative state Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, added it. Those working to expand protections for abuse survivors supported the 24-hour provision in principle, but they worried it would sink the bill.
Stolfer said that if the bill doesn’t change, his group won’t support it. And he believes his support carries a lot of weight.
“We have 1.1 million people with a license to carry, let alone 5 million total gun owners in Pennsylvania,” said Stolfer. “If we can get the message out, it will be a painful year for anyone who votes for this.”
When asked about when the bill might get a vote, Steve Miskin, spokesman for the Republican House majority said “we are planning to discuss and run this bill when we return to session in a few weeks.”