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In Pennsylvania, firearms are the weapon used most often by abusers who murder intimate partners and family members. In 2010, firearms were used in 61 of Pennsylvania's 169 domestic violence deaths -more than 60% of the total number of homicides.

PA and Federal Law Prohibits Abusers from Having Firearms

Both federal and Pennsylvania law prohibits known domestic violence abusers from having firearms in their possession.

Pennsylvania Firearm Prohibitions

In Pennsylvania, the Protection From Abuse (PFA) Act allows a domestic violence victim to ask the judge to order that the abuser turn over firearms to the court (usually via the county sheriff's office). The judge can also order the abuser to turn over firearms involved in the abuse of an intimate partner or family member. When a PFA orders the abuser to turn over firearms, it is illegal for an abuser to have any firearms in his or her possession. (PFA Act, 23 Pa. C.S. § 6108(a)(7)). 

The PFA Act covers both short and long guns, including handguns, hunting rifles, and even antique firearms. (23 Pa. C.S. § 6102). An abuser who has any of these weapons may be arrested and prosecuted for a criminal offense (18 Pa. C.S. § 6105). 

Other Pennsylvania criminal laws may prohibit certain persons from possessing firearms. For example, under the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, persons who have ever been convicted of felonies or involuntarily committed under the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedural Act are not allowed to have firearms. (18 Pa. C.S. § 6105).

Pennsylvania tied with Texas for the most murder-suicides from January through June 2005. 18 murder-suicide events left 41 people dead. American Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States, Violence Policy Center, 2006.

Federal Firearms Prohibitions

Federal law, 18 U.S.C. 922 makes it a crime for an abuser to have a firearm while there is a qualifying PFA order and/or criminal protection order in place, even when the order does not say anything about guns. This type of firearm "prohibition" only lasts for the duration of the PFA order.

It is also a federal crime for an abuser to have a firearm if they are convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence by a state court. This type of firearm prohibition lasts a lifetime. 

In a national study of murder-suicides from January through June of 2005, 92% were committed with firearms: 44% unspecified gun; 29% handgun; 9% shotgun; 4% rifle, 6% firearm plus another weapon. American Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States, Violence Policy Center, 2006.

Pennsylvania does not have a simple "domestic violence crime" on its books, because many crimes can be part of a pattern of domestic violence. In Pennsylvania, it is necessary to look to the state criminal code for guidance on which crimes can be considered misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. There are some exceptions to the federal firearms prohibitions. However, if an abuser violates any of these prohibitions, it is a federal offense and is punishable by up to ten years in prison.

PCADV Works to Increase Victim Safety and Hold Offenders Accountable to the Law

  • PCADV's member programs work in every county to provide domestic violence victims and families with emergency shelter, legal options and other services to help victims gain safety and independence. 
  • PCADV legal department attorneys provide technical assistance to advocates and attorneys helping domestic violence victims with firearms-related legal issues.
  • PCADV offers training, technical assistance and resources to law enforcement and courts about firearms laws related to protection from abuse orders and domestic violence crimes. 

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