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Poll shows overwhelming support for stricter gun laws for domestic abusers

Megan Guza
| Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, 5:24 p.m.

More than three-quarters of Pennsylvanians support more stringent laws when it comes to convicted domestic abusers and people with court-approved protection-from-abuse orders against them buying and possessing guns, according to a survey released Tuesday .

Some experts say the survey results bolster the case for state legislation to close what advocacy groups call loopholes in domestic violence laws.

“The recent poll results reinforce the same message that I have heard from law enforcement organizations from across the state,” said state Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware County, the prime sponsor of a Senate bill he said targets such loopholes. The legislation, known as Senate Bill 501, was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.

Tuesday's poll — commissioned by Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action and conducted by SurveyUSA — shows that 82 percent of 805 registered voters surveyed favor prohibiting gun sales to anyone convicted of a domestic-violence crime or anyone with a final protection from abuse or PFA order against them.

Of those who agreed with the prohibition, 88 percent came from gun-owning households.

Final PFAs are those that follow a hearing. The PFA process generally begins with a petition that, if granted, issues a temporary PFA that remains in place until a court hearing. Final PFA orders can remain in place for up to three years.

The survey shows that 78 percent agree that convicted domestic abusers and those with a final PFA order against them should be required to turn over all firearms to police or a gun dealer.

Killion's bill would limit the timeframe in which individuals with PFAs against them have to relinquish their firearms and to whom they can give them.

Kim Stolfer, chairman of Firearms Owners Against Crime, said the bill does nothing more than give a false sense of security, and he questioned the wording and motives of the poll.

“The (poll) questions are not helpful as far as explaining what the current laws are and where these anti-gun groups want to go,” said Stolfer of McDonald. “These questions are not properly depicting what goes on right now.”

State law gives individuals up to 60 days from a final PFA order being imposed to turn over their guns. Killion's Senate bill would lower that timeframe to 24 hours. The bill would eliminate the option of transferring the guns to a third party, such as a relative or friend, and make it mandatory that the weapons be turned over to police or a dealer.

“This really will bring (state law) in line with federal requirements,” said state Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm. “In the past, an offender has been able to give their gun to an uncle, cousin, father. Unfortunately, we've had cases where that happened and the offender gets enraged, goes to the uncle's house, grabs the gun and goes to the girlfriend's house and kills her.”

More than 37,000 new PFA cases were processed across Pennsylvania in 2015, the most recent year for which the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts has statistics. Of those, 32,356 were granted.

In Allegheny county, 3,696 PFA orders were requested and 3,493 granted, records show.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which worked with Killion and his cosponsors on Senate Bill 501, said 102 people died in domestic violence-related incidents last year, including 56 women and 46 men. That includes 37 perpetrators who were killed or killed themselves. Firearms were involved in 57 of the deaths.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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