Pa. House votes for tougher gun rules in domestic violence cases

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A proposal to force people in Pennsylvania convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence or subject to protective orders to surrender their guns within 24 hours moved closer to becoming law Wednesday after approval by the state House.

State representatives voted 131-62 for a bill that would also end the ability to turn over weapons to family members or friends -- instead they would have to go to police, a gun dealer or a lawyer. Eight Democrats joined nearly half the Republican members in voting against it.

Current law gives people convicted of domestic violence 60 days to turn over guns, and they can give them to neighbors, or to relatives or friends who don't live in the same home.

The proposal goes over to the Senate, which voted unanimously for a similar measure in March. A spokeswoman for the majority Republican caucus said senators are expected to consider the House bill in the coming days. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supports the bill.

Three hours of floor debate pitted supporters, who described it as a way to battle the plague of domestic violence, against opponents concerned with the infringement of Second Amendment gun rights and what they said were flaws in the legislation.

"The fact is that guns and domestic violence are a deadly mix," said the prime sponsor, Rep. Marguerite Quinn, R-Bucks. "The fact is that this bill does not apply to any reasonable gun owner. The fact is, if you don't want to be told by the bench that you need to relinquish your guns, don't commit a crime of domestic violence."

She said 39 people in the state have been killed by guns in domestic violence incidents since the bill was last amended, in late June.

"When this bill is in place, we will, tragically, still have domestic violence lead to murders," Quinn said. "If we could stop all that I know we would act expeditiously to do that. This is the first step we can take."

Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, called it "a gun control bill disguised as protecting domestic abuse victims" and said he has heard from county sheriffs who do not want to build storage facilities and take control of what could be a large number of weapons.

"This bill, like all gun control bills, concentrates on the instrument, not the person," Saccone said.

Several opponents spoke of concerns with the state's protection-from-abuse law, arguing the orders can be obtained with little or no evidence.

"The system has been weaponized by some to the great detriment of those actual victims of domestic violence, like me, who need those resources," said Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, who said someone held a gun to his head when he was in his early 20s, and that he was the subject of two protective orders he did not feel were warranted. Both were ultimately withdrawn.

But Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, said there are standards for PFAs, as they are known, and it's not a matter of, "You walk in and it's crazy time and just by flipping a coin somebody gets a temporary or final PFA."

"If you have a cure for domestic violence, please say it now," Miller said. "I would love to have that cure. But while we search for that cure, I'm tired of women -- mostly women -- getting beaten, getting killed and being too afraid to stand up."

Wolf promised to sign the bill if it gets to his desk and urged lawmakers to pass legislation to impose universal background checks on gun buyers and to keep firearms away from dangerous people.

The National Rifle Association and the state troopers' union were neutral on the bill, but the Pittsburgh-based Firearm Owners Against Crime was opposed, citing concerns about the shortness of the 24-hour period and the proposed limits on who can accept the relinquished guns. The state district attorneys' association called the bill a life-saving measure.