Keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers is critical because there is a well-established deadly connection between domestic violence and firearms. Nationally, women are 5 times more likely to be killed by abusers when there is a gun in the home, and domestic violence calls have long presented the highest fatality risk for our law enforcement officers. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at least 1,554 Pennsylvanians–including children, police officers, coworkers, passersby, and perpetrators who killed themselves–died as a result of domestic violence in the last decade. In 2016 alone, there were 146 domestic violence-related fatalities in Pennsylvania, with 57 of the 102 domestic violence victims (54%) dying from gunshot wounds, and two Pennsylvania law enforcers were murdered responding to domestic violence calls.
In October of 2018, Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 79, a bipartisan law that disarms domestic abusers and provides much-needed closure to existing loopholes in domestic violence law. Under this new legislation, when a final Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is issued, as a rule, judges will now be required to order relinquishment of firearms when an active PFA order is signed, and judges will still retain discretion whether to order the surrender of firearms in cases where the parties present a non-relinquishment consent order to the judge. Once surrender is ordered, those firearms must now be turned into one of three parties: to the County Sheriff, an additional law enforcement agency, or a federally-licensed firearms dealer. Previously, Pennsylvania law allowed abusers the option to surrender their firearms to friends and family members, thus ensuring that those firearms were being stored by people who might voluntarily or under pressure give the abuser access to his/her/their firearms. Lastly, Act 79 also requires surrender to be made within 24 hours, rather than 60 days (which was previously the law) after the PFA order was entered, thus dramatically restricting the window of time that an abuser could further harm the victim with a firearm.