Governor Tom Wolf today called on the General Assembly to pass bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 501 sponsored by Senator Tom Killion (R-Delaware), that would prohibit domestic abusers subject to final Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders from possessing firearms. Across the country, recent mass shootings often have a common thread: perpetrators with a history of domestic violence.
“We must protect victims – spouses and children – of domestic violence and attempt to prevent domestic abusers from escalating their violence in everyday places that result in mass murder,” Governor Wolf said. “It is time for the General Assembly to act on this bipartisan, commonsense legislation to protect victims and reduce violence.”
According to recent research, from 2009 to 2016 in the U.S., there have been 156 mass shootings—incidents in which four or more people were shot and killed, not including the shooter. These incidents resulted in 1,187 victims shot: 848 people were shot and killed, and 339 people were shot and injured. The majority of mass shootings—54 percent of cases—were related to domestic or family violence.
Senate Bill 501 was introduced at the beginning of this session and referred to committee in late March of 2017. It has bipartisan sponsors from across the state in the Senate.
Governor Wolf has pushed for a package of reforms aimed at combatting domestic violence, including SB 501 and:
- SB 196 (Hughes) allows a judge to order electronic monitoring of a PFA defendant if the defendant is found by the judge to be at substantial risk of violating the PFA.
- SB 449 (Bartolotta) provides additional assessment tools for Magisterial District judges in cases of domestic violence to determine bail for a defendant based on the risk posed to a victim.
- SB 500 (Vulakovich) provides for a law enforcement official to accompany a victim to his or her residence before or during the service of a PFA order.
- SB 502 (McGarrigle) allows judges to extend the terms of a PFA order or create an entirely new one if the order is set to expire or has expired while a defendant is incarcerated.
- SB 919 (Haywood, co-sponsored by Sens. Bartolotta and Schwank) allows a resident of a county housing authority to request relocation if they or someone affiliated with them has experienced domestic or sexual violence.
According to the Senate Bill 501’s sponsorship memo from January 2017, this targeted amendment removes third-party safekeeping as an option for a defendant ordered by the Court to relinquish firearms, weapons and ammunition. No longer would a person be able to transfer the firearms to a relative, friend, neighbor, etc. Defendants in final PFA cases would be required to surrender their firearms.
The bill would also strengthen existing surrender policy of convicted abusers to require surrender within 24 hours upon conviction of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, not the current 60 day period.
The intent of this change in law is to enhance safety for parties and their children in domestic violence and PFA situations. Enhancing their safety during these difficult times helps not only these families but also law enforcement charged with overall public safety.
This legislation is similar to Senate Bill 1182 (Vance) from the 2015-16 Legislative Session and was a recommendation of the Joint State Government Commission Study on Protection From Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania, published in November 2016.