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Pa. gun lobby takes aim at domestic-violence victims in the name of gun rights | Maria Panaritis

Maria Panaritis, Regional Columnist

Updated: Sunday, March 4, 2018, 8:18 PM

In this Sept. 1, 2014, photo, Willow Short, 4-month-old, center, along with her parents Megan and Mark and sister Liana, 6, and brother Mark, 3, poses for a photo in Sinking Spring, Pa. Willow Short had a heart transplant at 6-days-old. Mark Short shot all of them and himself in August 2016. Days earlier his wife had called police to their Berks County home. (Susan L. Angstadt/Reading Eagle via AP)

Imagine you were the mother in a Montgomery County courtroom a few days ago describing the terror of living with an abusive man. You and your two young children spent years “often praying for their own deaths in hopes of an escape,” as Joseph Myhre’s wife testified. Police find out about your brutal husband’s violence only after you manage to sneak to the hospital one night with a fractured skull.

Joseph Myhre of Lower Providence was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison on Feb. 27, 2018, after pleading guilty to abusing his children and wife. He struck the children repeatedly in the head with pipes, police said, and shocked them with an electric dog collar. MONTGOMERY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE MONTGOMERY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
Berks County District Attorney John Adams, second from right, holds a news conference outlining the facts in the murder suicide of Mark and Megan Short and their three children Monday, Aug, 15, 2016 in Leesport, Pa. Attending the news conference with Adams are Berks County Coroner Dennis Hess, left, Sinking Spring Chief of Police Lee Schweyer, second from left, Chief Detective Michael Gombard, right. (Bradley C Bower/Philadelphia Inquirer) BRADLEY C. BOWER / For The Inquirer
Photo Gallery: Pa. gun lobby takes aim at domestic-violence victims in the name of gun rights | Maria Panaritis

Or how about this: You’re Megan Swingle Short, mother of three. You call police to your family’s Berks County home in the summer of 2016 after an argument with your husband. The next day he buys a gun. A few weeks later, on the day you’re planning to move out with the kids, he loads the gun with bullets and kills everyone, including the dog. Including himself.

You’d want to keep a gun out of the hands of men like these, no?

You’d want those guns stashed in a place so safe that he would never lay hands on the weapons until a judge said he could have them back.

Well, you’d have to live somewhere other than Pennsylvania for that. Because common sense in this state is no match for the gun lobby.

Despite horrific cases of hair-trigger abusers terrorizing girlfriends or spouses into silence or worse, Pennsylvania’s elected officials have done more to protect gun-toting abusers than the rights of their victims to stay alive.

Send your Thank You cards to every state House and Senate member with the moral compass of an amoeba.

As we speak, Second Amendment ideologues are fighting efforts to change state law so that gun owners subjected to protection-from-abuse (PFA) orders can keep their options open when a judge orders their weapons confiscated.

Joseph Myhre of Lower Providence was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison on Feb. 27, 2018, after pleading guilty to abusing his children and wife. He struck the children repeatedly in the head with pipes, police said, and shocked them with an electric dog collar. MONTGOMERY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE

What do these honorable defenders of the Constitution find so revolting? A bill introduced in early 2017 by Delaware County Republican Sen. Tom Killion, at the behest of domestic-violence advocates, would make suspected abusers forfeit their guns to only one of two entities: law enforcement or a licensed firearms dealer.

The law also currently lets abusers slapped with a three-year PFA stow their guns with a friend or family member.

Imagine your hothead spouse or ex-boyfriend being told to stay away — and then handing his Glock to a drinking buddy with the court’s approval.

These are people one tantrum away from murder, and we’re supposed to think they wouldn’t demand back the weapons in a fit of rage?

“We have seen instances where weapons have been relinquished to friends or family members and the abuser is able to get the weapons back and then uses them to kill the victim,” said Julie Bancroft, with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Abusers are often beyond dangerous. They’re homicidal.

During a nauseating news conference I covered in 2016, grim-faced investigators in Berks County revealed all the ways the Short family had been exposed to the evil of a sick, sick man in their home. The youngest of Mark Short’s children, Willow Short, had survived a CHOP heart transplant six days after birth, only to be blown away in her pajamas by her dad two years later.

Berks County District Attorney John Adams, second from right, holds a news conference outlining the facts in the murder suicide of Mark and Megan Short and their three children Monday, Aug, 15, 2016 in Leesport, Pa. Attending the news conference with Adams are Berks County Coroner Dennis Hess, left, Sinking Spring Chief of Police Lee Schweyer, second from left, Chief Detective Michael Gombard, right. (Bradley C Bower/Philadelphia Inquirer)

“This was a very, very unfortunate incident,” District Attorney John T. Adams said at the time. “I don’t know that anything can be learned other than, when leaving an abusive relationship, it’s often a very dangerous time for a victim.”

That’s no matter to lobbyist and Firearms Owners Against Crime founder Kim Stolfer, who proudly defended his group’s efforts to oppose Killion’s bill when we spoke Friday.

He said it’s about due process and making sure that property isn’t seized by a partner fabricating an abuse claim as part of a nefarious plot.

He tells me all this while also explaining the time he went to a sister-in-law’s house and dismantled her abusive, alcoholic spouse’s weapons himself before she got a PFA against him.

“I wasn’t taking any chances,” Stolfer told me. “He threatened to kill her.

When a judge later ordered the guns formally confiscated, they went to the sheriff’s department.

I felt I was in the Twilight Zone.

Even Killion says only gun groups seem incapable of seeing reality here for what it is.

“I know lots of gun owners, and I haven’t met anyone yet — other than the folks that are with these [gun lobbying] organizations — that doesn’t think it’s reasonable,” Killion said. “It makes perfect sense.”

This is a critical election year. Democrats are going after Republican seats like no one has seen in years. A spokeswoman for Senate leadership said they support eliminating the family and friends provision and predicted action on the bill soon.

Let’s see who, when push comes to shove in the Senate and in the House, makes this bill law.

And who dares to go home with a story about why they voted “no.”

Maria Panaritis, Regional Columnist

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