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A new law restricting firearms ownership by domestic abusers takes effect in Pennsylvania today, and it's a real improvement over the measure it replaces. Gov. Tom Wolf, who signed the law last October, called it the state's "first law in 14 years to address gun violence." He added that he hoped it would be just the first of several needed reforms, including universal background checks.

Now, firearm ownership by people convicted of domestic violence is already illegal under federal law, but the new law, Act 79, provides extra safety measures by requiring that defendants subject to a final protection from abuse order (PFA) give up their guns and ammunition. In addition, those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence have to turn their guns over to law enforcement within 24 hours of the conviction. The previous state law allowed them 60 days to give up their guns. (What could have gone wrong with that?) Also, victims can request an automatic extension of the protection order if it goes into effect while the abuser is in jail, meaning victims will have at least 90 days of protection if the person is back out on the street.


Also, Act 79 closes a huge loophole for defendants in PFA cases: The guns will have to be handed over to "a law enforcement agency, a licensed firearms dealer, an attorney or commercial armory." Well duh, who else would your turn them over to? Oh, how about the situation now outlawed by Act 79? Under the old PFA statute, defendants were allowed to "surrender" their guns by giving them to a friend or family member. That wasn't so smart!

The state legislature finally decided allowing an abusive person to "give up" a gun to someone they could have easy access to -- and hey, could maybe bully into giving the gun back -- wasn't such a great idea. Julie Bancroft, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, pointed to several cases where victims of domestic violence had been killed by people who'd supposedly been disarmed by the old law.

There's still an exception to the removal of guns from those subject to a protection order: The law mandates firearms surrender only for defendants who contest the PFA order and lose in a hearing; those who reach a stipulated agreement aren't automatically required to turn in their guns, although a judge still has the option to order it. The exception was added as an amendment over the objections of Democrats who pointed out that a victim of domestic violence isn't necessarily in a good position to reach an amicable agreement about an abusive partner's goddamn gun, goddammit. State Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said in a September statement,

The victims of domestic violence should not be put in a position where their abuser coerces, threatens or forces them to agree with this provision. An abuser with a weapon has a powerful influence over their victim. The court should require abusers to surrender all firearms in every case of domestic violence. We can not put victims in the position to negotiate firearms with their already-hostile abusers.

Ultimately, Costa and the other Dems voted for the full bill anyway because it still significantly improved safety for victims, not that they were altogether happy with a new option for abusers to keep their guns. That's why a Democratic majority's needed, huh?

We're also impressed by one of the non-gun portions of Act 79's update to the PFA law: Victims of domestic violence will be able to request an escort by law enforcement to go retrieve their belongings. That provision was included to prevent a replay of a 2014 murder-suicide in which a woman had asked police to help her pick up stuff from her home. The cops turned her down, so she asked a friend to accompany her. Her husband shot and killed them both, then himself.

Hey, state legislatures? Police escorts for DV victims needs to be the law everywhere, for fuckssake. Copy this law, not the crap from ALEC, 'kay?

So congratulations, Pennsylvania, on finally getting this at least partially right. And the NRA can go suck ass.

[WHYY / Gov. Tom Wolf / York Daily Record]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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