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Pa. State House Passes Gun-Restricting Domestic Violence Bill. It's An Outlier.

Matt Rourke

After extensive debate, the state House passed a bill Wednesday that would make it harder for domestic abusers to possess guns.

It’s one of more than a dozen gun-restricting proposals introduced this session after high-profile school shootings.  

But the measure is the only one that has gotten much traction—largely because it’s being presented as a domestic violence bill first.

The plan passed the House 131 to 62. Not a close vote—but there was enough opposition to drag out the debate for more than two hours.

And that long deliberation was only the tip of the iceberg.

The bill was initially expected to pass last June, before the legislature wrapped up for the summer.

While the NRA and state troopers’ union have been neutral on the proposal, it was bogged down when the group Firearm Owners Against Crime opposed it over concerns the measure would infringe on gun owners’ rights.

At the time, bill sponsor Marguerite Quinn, a Bucks County Republican, was frustrated.

“I'm confident that I'll be standing here in the fall thanking people for their vote and saying it's about darn time,” she said as lawmakers recessed.

House Bill 2060 would require people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, or final protection from abuse orders against them to give up their firearms within 24 hours.

The one exception is for people who reach a consent agreement to stop abusive behavior, and a judge signs off on it.

Current law gives abusers 60 days to surrender their weapons, and lets friends and family hold them for safekeeping. The proposal would limit weapons-keepers to law enforcement, gun dealers, and lawyers.

Fundamentally, Quinn doesn’t see it as a bill about guns.

“I believe in the second amendment,” she said. “I believe that those people who feel that their gun rights are going to be restricted misunderstand, actually, what is in this bill.”

But others do.

“Those who are not reasonable, who just want to advance gun control measures in Pennsylvania that are rejected by the majority of our population, they want to ram this through today. This is about gun control,” said Butler County Republican Daryl Metcalfe, speaking on the House floor.

He was one of 54 Republicans and eight Democrats who voted against it.

They made a number of arguments. That county sheriffs don’t have the resources to store many seized weapons; or that Protection from Abuse orders are too easy to get with little evidence.

But the main one is this: Metcalfe and others are worried the bill is gun control disguised as domestic violence prevention. 

“They’re gun-grabbing individuals,” Metcalfe said. “They’re trying to take away the rights of our citizens who own firearms.”

Since the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Florida school that left 14 students and three staff members dead, 39 states have passed new gun laws. 

An Associated Press analysis shows some were expansions. Tennessee, for instance, let county commissioners with permits carry handguns for meetings—though they also passed new gun limits in domestic violence cases.

Florida passed the most restrictions, including a waiting period for gun purchases and higher legal ownership age.

Nine states have banned bump stocks, and eight have passed “red flag” laws to limit gun ownership when a person might be a danger to themselves or others.

Pennsylvania hasn’t passed any, despite many attempts over the last eight months.

Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has called for bump stock bans, expanded background checks, and a red flag bill—but still, the closest one to passage is the only measure billed as not being about guns.

Quinn, the sponsor of the domestic abuse bill, admonished her colleagues for their lack of urgency.

“Let me remind you that since we broke from here and we left, having tabled this bill in June, there have been 39 deaths of domestic violence involving firearms,” she said on the floor. “Not baseball bats. Not hands.”

The measure now goes to the Senate, which passed a similar bill unanimously several months ago.

Quinn said she’s confident it will get done in the chamber’s seven remaining session days.