Study Recommends Strengthening PA Gun Laws In Domestic Violence Cases

Dec 30, 2016

Hollie Ayers poses with a photograph of her late son, Michael, 2, at her home in Bedford, Pa. on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Michael was shot and killed in front of her by her abusive ex-husband in 2013.
Credit John Beale / AP

The Joint State Government Commission is recommending changes to a decades-old domestic violence protection law in Pennsylvania.

The group is pushing for updates that would, among other things, make it more difficult for abusers to access firearms.

Pennsylvania's landmark Protection from Abuse Act was first passed in 1976, and enabled courts to issue mandates — called PFA orders — to keep abusers away from their victims.

The current iteration of the law includes protections to keep people under PFA orders from buying firearms. However, it allows a relatively broad list of third-parties, such as friends and family, to act as safekeepers of a defendant's weapons.

That's one of the access loopholes the report recommends closing.

Peg Dierkers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said her group has been trying to do that for years.

She said the current law can inadvertently give abusers leverage against their victims.

"What we see, time after time, is that abusers will use the easy access to those guns, or the perceived easy access to those guns, as a threat to continue to abuse and control the victim," she said.

And, she added, the consequences can be deadly.

"Study after national study has shown that presence of a firearm in the context of already-occurring domestic violence will increase the likelihood of homicide to 500 percent," she said.

Other suggestions in the report include additional assessments to decide whether people who violate PFA orders should be eligible for bail, and potential GPS tracking of violent offenders.