Moments before the Pennsylvania House's historic 131-62 vote Wednesday to take guns away from violent domestic abusers, members heard a brief and chilling speech from the bill's sponsor, Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R., Bucks). She said that since the legislature recessed in June without passing her bill — a bill that the Senate had already moved in March — there were "39 domestic violence deaths involving firearms" in Pennsylvania. "Not baseball bats, not hands, not any other weapon."
No one can know for sure how many lives could have been saved if the bill had passed sooner. But it is certain that guns and violent domestic abusers are a lethal combination. In Pennsylvania last year, domestic abusers killed 117 people. Of the dead, 78 were killed with guns. And, abusers are increasingly using guns to kill their victims. More than 60 percent more victims were killed with guns last year than a decade ago, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Under Quinn's bill, only abusers who are under a court-imposed protection from abuse order must surrender their weapons within 24 hours to law enforcement, a gun shop, or an attorney. Now, abusers have 60 days to give up the guns, and they can store them with friends or relatives. That gives abusers easy access to their weapons the next time they get into a rage and want to take it out on their victims.
This bill is historic because it loosened the choke hold the gun lobby has on Pennsylvania's legislature. The body has failed to force parents to lock guns away from children and to take guns away from mentally ill people. It has yet to require background checks on people who buy long guns in a private sale, which is one way criminals get guns. Other state legislatures, including those in Florida, Oregon, Delaware, and Vermont, have been far more progressive in reacting to the February slaughter of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Quinn's bill is the product of more than a decade of lobbying by victim advocates. In the uphill battle against the powerful gun lobby, advocates made compromises to get it through the legislature. One of them was to give judges the discretion to let abusers hold onto their firearms, if the victim agrees. Let's hope judges know better.
But even with this flaw, the bill — the Senate still has to approve changes — is far better than existing law.