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  1. #1
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    Nov 2012
    york, Pennsylvania
    (York County)
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    Default PA domestic violence law could turn police offices into depositories for guns

    As chief of a small police department in a rural area of Berks County, Erik P. Grunzig can easily imagine a scenario in which a resident asks the department to accept his hunting rifles and other firearms for safekeeping because of a court order.

    In the past, a resident who had a protection-from-abuse order placed against him or her by a county judge over allegations of domestic violence would be required to turn over their firearms to the sheriff's office.

    That often occurred when deputies served the order, but there were times when it didn't happen immediately because the papers were served by other parties, or the order was handed down by a judge.

    Under a new Pennsylvania law, that same person may turn over his or her guns to any law enforcement agency or a licensed firearms dealer.

    The new law requires the surrender to occur within 24 hours of the service of the protection order or the sentencing for a domestic-violence-related misdemeanor offense.

    Also, and perhaps most significantly, firearms may no longer be turned over to friends or family members. It's a “third-party” exception in the state's domestic violence law that advocates fought hard to close.

    The signing by Gov. Tom Wolf of Act 79, which took effect April 10, effectively shifted much of the burden for collecting and properly storing relinquished firearms to local law enforcement and state police.

    Grunzig is Brecknock Township police chief and president of the Berks County Chiefs of Police Association.

    While supporting the intent of the law aimed at protecting domestic violence victims who file PFAs, Grunzig, who was hired by Brecknock last year following his retirement as Muhlenberg Township chief, sees logistical problems for small police forces in rural areas.

    He is one of five full-time officers on the Brecknock force, which employs several part-time officers to fill out shifts.

    “I don't have a large evidence room,” Grunzig said. “And it's not uncommon for people in my jurisdiction to be outdoors people or hunters. They could potentially have multiple safes for guns that you've got to deal with, not only to catalogue but find space for.”

    If it were only PFAs, it wouldn't be much of a problem. But Act 79 also requires those newly convicted of domestic violence offenses to relinquish their guns within 24 hours of sentencing.

    Unlike with PFA orders, in which the guns are often taken when the sheriff's office serves a PFA order, special arrangements will need to be made for the defendants to turn over firearms.

    Police departments are notified through a law enforcement database if a gun owner has failed to relinquish firearms within the 24-hour period. Failing to timely relinquish the guns is a second-degree misdemeanor, with maximum penalties of two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

    “I wouldn't say it's a burden, because we're protecting people and I see the reason for that and wholeheartedly support that,” Grunzig said. “It's just the logistics of some of these things are going to be cumbersome for us. I think it's a wait-and-see thing.”
    Sheriff wants to help

    Berks County Sheriff Erik J. Weaknecht has been talking to the police chiefs at their association meetings about the anticipated impact of Act 79.

    “It's really caught a lot law enforcement agencies off guard,” Weaknecht said. “I don't think it'll impact our office at all. We've been doing it (collecting guns on orders from judges) for 20, 30 years. But they have a potential for filling up their evidence rooms.”

    Weaknecht said he's made a standing offer to municipal police chiefs:

    “If a person does surrender to the local police department, they have to give them a receipt but we'll actually store them in our armory at the courthouse. That way, it's not taking up vital storage in their evidence rooms.”

    Weapons turned over directly to state troopers, however, will be stored in state police armories, state police officials have decided.

    The county storage facility, in the bowels of the courthouse, has been expanded and upgraded in recent years, Weaknecht said.

    Every weapon is boxed and bar-coded in a computerized inventory system. An industrial-strength de-humidifier should ensure that no firearm rusts under the sheriff's watch.
    More choices

    The Legislature's intent with Act 79, Weaknecht said, was to give gun owners alternatives by which to relinquish their guns within the 24-hour window, including a licensed arms dealer. It was previously implied, but not explicitly stated, that the guns had to be surrendered immediately after a conviction or PFA order, meaning that gun owners, technically, could have been arrested for possessing a firearm while en route to turn over their firearm, he said.

    To make it easier for everyone, Weaknecht said, deputies encourage those who are subject to the order to turn over their weapons to them directly, even though the new law gives them 24 hours to relinquish the firearms.

    It puts the owner's mind at ease when deputies explain the conditions in which his firearms will be kept, Weaknecht said.

    “These guys can't stand when we take their guns,” said Capt. Tim Moore, commander of the sheriff's office patrol and services division. “They'll say, 'You're not taking my guns.'”

    Some of the guns could be valuable and may be part of a collection of vintage weapons, so they're afraid their firearms will be sold, melted or allowed to rust.

    The receipt that gun owners sign states the condition of the guns at the time of the hand-off, he said.

    “We're gun guys, too,” Moore said.

    The law requires PFA plaintiffs to be notified when the guns are to be returned, such as in cases of a protection order being lifted.
    Troopers expect influx

    Weaknecht said that it's likely that the sheriff's office will get fewer surrendered guns under the law. That's because in municipalities where state police have the jurisdiction, troopers will collect and store guns turned over to them as the local law enforcement agency.

    State police have been communicating the new requirements to its members as well as its local law enforcement partners. Guidelines and documents, including firearms-surrender forms, are available on the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Assistance Network, also known as CLEAN, said Ryan Tarkowski, communications director.

    “We're expecting and preparing for more surrenders of firearms,” he said.

    Berks District Attorney John T. Adams told the chiefs at a recent meeting that his office will do everything it can to persuade newly convicted defendants in domestic violence cases to surrender their guns prior to sentencing, before the 24-hour clocks starts ticking, to make for a smoother transition.

    Those defendants will never be able to possess the guns again, barring their conviction being overturned, but they could sell the guns following the legal process, Weaknecht said.

    Wolf signed Act 79 into law in October.

    “With Act 79, victims of domestic abuse will know that Pennsylvania is working to protect them from their abusers,” the governor said in an April 9 press release, the day before the law took effect. “The incidents of domestic violence where guns are involved in our commonwealth prove that this commonsense law is an important step to protect victims of domestic abuse, save lives, and hold abusers accountable for their actions. “

    Wolf, a Democrat, thanked the many advocates of the domestic violence measure for support of the legislation and the Republican-controlled Legislature for its passage.
    Kudos all around

    Adams said the changes under Act 79 will likely have an impact on Berks, which over the last decade had an average of two domestic-related homicides per year involving firearms.

    “We have seen too often that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homicide,” the district attorney said.

    Jennifer Sawyer, legal advocate for Safe Berks, which provides assistance and education to women in abusive relationships, said that closing the loophole by which gun owners could turn over firearms to friends or family was long overdue.

    In 2017 alone, 78 domestic violence victims were lost to gun violence in Pennsylvania, she said.

    Nicole Bowman, a Sinking Spring mother of two young boys and a member of the Berks Chapter of MOMS Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said the measure drew strong bipartisan support from local lawmakers.

    “We met with them, and they voted yes for that,” she said. “It just showed how a commonsense gun-safety law was very easy for everyone in all parties to understand and get behind.”

    Organizers of the local MOMS chapter are preparing for their second annual Wear Orange Day in June, part of a national movement to raise awareness of gun violence and advocate for what they call common-sense reforms. Last year's event on the grounds of Reading Public Museum drew more than 100 participants.

    Of the enactment of Act 79, Bowman said, “I believe the day it went into effect is the day we started saving lives.”

    Pennsylvania's Act 79


    Firearms and other weapons must be relinquished within 24 hours of the issuance of a protection-from-abuse order, unless special circumstances exist.

    Firearms can no longer be given to friends or family for safekeeping.

    Firearms and other weapons can be relinquished to any law enforcement agency, sheriff's office, federal firearms licensed dealer or a licensed commercial armory.

    Source: Pennsylvania State Police

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Mohnton, Pennsylvania
    (Berks County)
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    Default Re: PA domestic violence law could turn police offices into depositories for guns

    What’s a licensed commercial armory?
    The Gun is the Badge of a Free Man

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
    (Lehigh County)
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    Default Re: PA domestic violence law could turn police offices into depositories for guns

    Quote Originally Posted by Gunsnwater View Post
    What’s a licensed commercial armory? is one example.
    GunSitters® is a secure storage facility designed to store firearms for responsible gun owners. Firearm owners are now able to take action to place their guns in their own personal storage space to keep control of them. Firearms are no longer stored improperly or available to those who may use them irresponsibly.
    Illegitimus non carborundum est

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