It is appalling that Pennsylvania’s violent domestic abusers have as long as two months to surrender their guns following a conviction. In this state, abusers are free to stash their weapons with a friend or a relative, making them accessible for the next time they get annoyed with a spouse or a child.
And, they will get annoyed again.
If the pattern of domestic abuse holds up, as many as 60 women, men, and children will be shot to death in Pennsylvania this year.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that 57 of the 102 domestic abuse victims murdered in 2016 were killed with guns. Between 2007 and 2016, the latest year for which statistics are available, almost 600 of the 1,100 domestic violence victims killed in the state were shot to death. Nationally, more than half of the 2,000 abuse victims killed last year were killed with guns. And stray bullets took out or wounded children and others who happened to be standing by when an abuser opened fire. Police who respond to these horrific events also are put at grave risk.
Federal law does ban convicted abusers from possessing guns but Congress left it to the states to enforce the law. Predictably, most don’t. Only about a dozen states, including New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland, require a quick surrender of guns following an abuse conviction. And it works. Those states have about 10 percent fewer domestic abuse-related homicides than those that don’t take guns away from abusers, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in October.
But as logical as it may seem to disarm people who have proved to be so violent a court has ordered them to stay away from their victims, Pennsylvania’s legislature has been incapable of acting to protect victims.
State Sen. Thomas Killion (R., Delaware) introduced a bill last January that would require convicted abusers to turn their guns over to law enforcement 24 hours after a conviction. He got quite a few Democrats and Republicans to co-sponsor it. Gov. Wolf has said he supports the bill. Yet this bill has been stuck in the Judiciary Committee ever since March, raising the question of how sincere these legislators are about protecting abuse victims. Advocates had hoped Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Bucks-Montgomery), the committee chairman, would list it for a vote in November, but he ignored their pleas.
Maybe Killion and Greenleaf are just afraid of the gun lobby, which routinely puts up a fight even on the most innocuous legislation, like letting communities require gun owners to report when their weapons are lost or stolen.
Lawmakers have a chance to protect constituents who live in constant fear and some of whom will certainly come to a violent end this year.
When legislators return to Harrisburg this month following their long winter vacation, they should resuscitate the bill and move it to the governor’s desk.
If they save just one life, it will have been worth the effort.