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Pennsylvania to toughen gun laws in domestic violence cases

Written by Marc Levy/Associated Press | Oct 3, 2018 5:03 PM
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This story has been updated. 

(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania lawmakers on Wednesday passed the first anti-violence legislation in more than a decade that deals directly with firearms, after years of lobbying by violence-prevention groups to persuade a Legislature historically protective of gun rights.

The bill would force people in Pennsylvania with a domestic violence ruling against them to more quickly surrender their guns, and advocates say February's Parkland, Florida, high school shooting that killed 17 people and the pervasiveness of the #MeToo movement helped propel it.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 43-5 on Wednesday to send the bill to the desk of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who plans to sign it.

"I'm glad that Pennsylvania is joining the ranks of states that are doing something post-Parkland, post-Sandy Hook, post-everything," said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a gun violence-prevention group that supports the bill. "This is the first time and it should be a start."

The bill picked up speed in March, when the Senate negotiated changes that moved the National Rifle Association to drop its opposition to it. The Senate promptly passed it, unanimously, but changes in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives triggered a new fight with some gun-rights advocates before the chamber approved it last week over their protests, 131-62.

"It took a long time, it was a slow process," said Deb Marteslo of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "It's a mind shift here in the Capitol, but it happened and we're deeply grateful. The winners here are the victims of abuse."

Under Pennsylvania's bill, people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence or subject to final restraining orders must surrender their guns within 24 hours. A judge could agree to an extension or, in the case of an application for a restraining order, a settlement that allows a defendant to keep their firearms.

Twenty-nine other states, including Texas, already require people convicted of domestic violence to turn in firearms and prohibit all people under domestic-violence restraining orders from having firearms, according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety.

Current Pennsylvania law gives people convicted of domestic violence 60 days to turn over guns, although defendants are often forced to give up their guns well before conviction, either as a condition of bail or a restraining order.

On restraining orders, current law leaves the forfeiture of firearms to a judge's discretion. Advocates say a judge orders forfeiture in 14 percent of those cases.

The bill also eliminates a provision for people convicted of a domestic violence crime to give their firearms to neighbors or even relatives or friends, as long as they don't live in the same home.

Pennsylvania's Legislature has long been gun-friendly, and for years has rejected efforts by two different Democratic governors to win more gun-control restrictions, including an expansion of background checks. The last time the Legislature approved anti-violence legislation targeting firearms was 2005, when it gave judges the discretion to seize firearms in restraining orders, anti-violence advocates said.

But advocates for the bill say they focused on a message of domestic-violence prevention, saying the bill targets the dangerous period when one partner tries to leave a relationship by reporting their partner to law enforcement or seeking a restraining order.

"The people who are affected by this law are not law-abiding," Goodman said. "They are dangerous and they've been found to be by a court."

A recent Associated Press review of all firearms-related legislation passed this year nationwide, encompassing the first full state legislative sessions since the mass shooting that killed 58 people in Las Vegas, showed a mixed record, though gun control bills did pass in a number of states.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania lawmakers have passed the first anti-violence legislation in years that deals directly with firearms.

A measure to force people in Pennsylvania with a domestic violence ruling against them to more quickly surrender their guns cleared its last hurdle Wednesday before it can get Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's signature.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill, 43-5, and Wolf plans to sign it.

Domestic violence- and gun violence-prevention groups support the bill and have worked for its passage for years.

It picked up speed in March after the Florida high school shooting that killed 17 people and the National Rifle Association negotiated changes that dropped its opposition.

Under the bill, people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence or subject to final restraining orders must surrender their guns within 24 hours.

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