Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1182: Legislation to Keep Guns Out of the Hands of Domestic Abusers

May 11, 2016

Bottom Line: Dangerous gaps in Pennsylvania law make it too easy for domestic abusers to access guns, even though they are legally prohibited from having them. The General Assembly should pass SB 1192, which will (1) bar gun possession by domestic abusers subject to final protection orders and require them to turn in their guns to licensed dealers or law enforcement, and (2) strengthen existing law to ensure abusers convicted of domestic violence crimes turn in their guns promptly and securely.

Prohibit domestic abusers subject to active final protection orders from having guns.

  • Keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers is essential to protecting Pennsylvania women.
  • About half of women shot to death in Pennsylvania are killed by intimate partners.FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, 2000-2012 The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be murdered.J.C. Campbell, S.W. Webster, J.Koziol-McLain, et al., Risk factors for femicide within physically abuse intimate relationships: results from a multi-state case control study, 93 Amer. J. of Public Health 1089-97 (2003)
  • Federal law blocks abusers subject to final protection orders from having guns18 USC § 922(g)(9) — but state officials can only enforce the law if there is state law that mirrors the federal prohibition.
  • Pennsylvania law does not prohibit people subject to final domestic violence protection orders. Instead, a judge may decide whether to include a prohibition when granting the order. As a result, many abusers are not barred from having guns under state law, even though they are federally prohibited from doing so—and state prosecutors cannot convict them of illegal possession.
  • SB 1182 would protect women by bringing state law in line with federal law and barring gun possession by all domestic abusers subject to final protection orders.Final orders are issued only after an opportunity to appear in court and a judicial finding that abuse has occurred

Require abusers under restraining orders to turn in guns to dealers or law enforcement.

  • While federal law prohibits abusers from having guns and blocks them from passing background checks at licensed dealers, it does not dictate how abusers turn in the guns they already own.
  • Instead, restraining orders are issued in state courts—and states are responsible for enforcing the law by ordering relinquishment. Unless states act to ensure prohibited people turn in their guns, abusers may retain access to weapons they already have at home and now unlawfully possess.
  • But state law does not require abusers under final orders to turn in their guns, but rather only allows a court to require guns be turned in—and even allows surrender to friends or family. As a result, many abusers return from court to their homes—and back to guns they already own.

Everytown research of all final protection orders issues from 2011 through 2015 shows that only 14 percent – about 1 in 7 – required that firearms be turned in.Pennsylvania State Police statistics obtained by Everytown.

Year Total final
protective orders
Orders in which
subject was ordered to
turn in firearms
Share required to
turn in guns
2011 5,154 714 14%
2012 6,532 831 13%
2013 9,979 1,393 14%
2014 12,102 1,658 14%
2015 14,149 1,907 13%
Total 47,916 6,503 14%
  • SB 1182 would fix this dangerous law by requiring all prohibited abusers subject to restraining orders to turn in their guns immediately—and never to friends or family.
  • Only people who are legally prohibited from having guns will be affected, and they will be required to turn in guns they possess illegally.
  • Cities see a 25 percent reduction in intimate partner gun homicide when states pass laws restricting access to firearms by people under domestic violence restraining orders.April Zeoli and Daniel Webster, “Effects of domestic violence policies, alcohol taxes and police staffing levels on intimate partner homicide in large US cities,” Journal of Injury Prevention, 2010, available at http://bit.ly/1qbHZxG.
  • Pennsylvania already has a process for ensuring that criminals and people with serious mental illness who are prohibited from possessing guns turn them in after their conviction or adjudication. State courts and law enforcement have been carrying out this policy since 1990.

Strengthen the law for convicted abusers turning in their guns.

  • Pennsylvania already prohibits people convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse crimes from possessing guns and requires these people to turn in their guns when they become prohibited.
  • But current law allows these prohibited people to hold on to their guns for up to 60 days before turning them in, and does not create a clear process for holding them accountable if they do not.
  • SB 1182 would strengthen these provisions, requiring abusers to turn in their guns within 24 hours either to law enforcement or to a licensed dealer—similar to the existing process for restrained abusers ordered to turn in guns.

Several horrific incidents illustrate the need for this legislation.

  • 3/23/13 — Huntingdon County: Hollie Ayers’ estranged husband shot and killed her two-year-old son and then himself. Hollie had a final protective order against her husband, but it did not require him to turn in his guns. A few weeks before the murder, the shooter’s parents had convinced him to store his guns with them—amid concerns he would kill himself. But on the day of the shooting, he took back one of the guns from his parents’ house, which he used in the murder-suicide.See http://huff.to/1RhttCX
  • 2/21/11 — Fulton County: Tina Souders’ ex-boyfriend shot and killed her and then himself. Souders had a final protective order against the shooter, which required him to turn in his firearms. But he was allowed to give his firearms to his sister, and on the morning of the shooting he was able to take a weapon back from her before perpetrating the crime with it.See http://bit.ly/1TJ0wjx
  • 1/18/08 — Butler County: Deborah Raimondi’s estranged husband shot and killed her and then himself. Her three young children witnessed the shooting. Deborah had a final protective order against her husband at the time, but while Deborah indicated in her petition that he owned multiple firearms, the court did not order him to turn them in.See http://bit.ly/1U1zULh