HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate gave unanimous approval Wednesday to a bill to force people with a domestic violence ruling against them to more quickly forfeit their firearms, a bill that includes last-minute changes negotiated by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups.
The bill, part of a package of domestic violence-prevention bills, is now before the House. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supports it, although its ultimate fate in the Republican-controlled House is unclear.
The bill passed without debate.
Julie Bancroft, of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the organization has worked on the bill for four years. Motivating its passage now, Bancroft said, are recent gun violence tragedies, including the Florida high school shooting last month that killed 17 people, and the pervasiveness of the #MeToo movement that “have put the spotlight on victims of abuse and violence, and made clear the need for change.”
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Under the bill, people convicted of a domestic violence crime would have 48 hours to give up their firearms to a law enforcement agency, a federally licensed firearms dealer or their lawyer. Under current law, people convicted of domestic violence have 60 days and can give their guns to a relative, friend or neighbor, as long as they don’t live in the same home.
In addition, defendants in final protection-from-abuse cases would have to hand over their guns in 24 hours. Current law leaves forfeiture to a judge’s discretion, and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, said judges order the forfeiture of firearms in 14 percent of protection-from-abuse cases.
Pennsylvania’s Legislature has long been gun-friendly, but advocates for the bill 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.
“Those are points in time when an abuser might be particularly angry, might be particularly interested in punishing his partner who filed the complaint and sought the protection-from-abuse order,” said Kristen Houser, of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
Also supporting it were the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and gun violence-prevention groups, including CeaseFirePA, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and Everytown for Gun Safety.
Fourteen states require people convicted of domestic violence to turn in firearms, while 28 prohibit people under domestic-violence restraining orders from having firearms, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. Similar legislation is on the move in conservative states as well as liberal states, said Adam Sege, of Everytown.
Jeff Dempsey, of CeaseFirePA, said it was egregious that it took so long to toughen Pennsylvania’s laws.
“It’s offensive that it’s taken this long to do this, to make this right,” Dempsey said.
NRA officials did not respond to requests for comment. The bill passed after 11th-hour changes negotiated by gun-rights groups, including the NRA, moved them from being opposed to the bill to being neutral, Killion said.
“I think they realize that this is a common-sense bill,” Killion said.
The changes they sought in the original bill, Killion said, included doubling the gun-forfeiture period from 24 hours to 48 hours after a domestic violence conviction and adding the gun owner’s lawyer to the list of parties that can take custody of forfeited guns.
The bill makes failing to hand over a firearm a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in prison.