‘This is simply saving lives.’ How will Pa.’s new gun law help domestic violence victims?

Say no to domestic violence

"Every person deserves to be safe, and to live a safe, healthy life." The Centre County Women's Resource Center offers free resources to the victims of domestic violence, including shelter.
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"Every person deserves to be safe, and to live a safe, healthy life." The Centre County Women's Resource Center offers free resources to the victims of domestic violence, including shelter.

When Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, spoke last month about a bill designed to strengthen protection from abuse orders and convictions of domestic violence crimes, he cited local murders with domestic violence ties, including Traci Raymond Miscavish.

In talking about Miscavish, his childhood friend, Conklin remembered having breakfast with the Philipsburg-area woman two weeks before she was shot and killed by her husband in 2013.

“We knew of no domestic violence going on, but it was,” Conklin said. “Traci filed a PFA, but the problem is the PFA takes awhile to go into effect.”

A memorial was set up outside of the County Market in Philipsburg for Traci Raymond Miscavish after the woman was killed there in 2013. Centre Daily Times, file

The bill — which the Senate passed Wednesday and Gov. Tom Wolf said he plans to sign into law — requires Pennsylvanians with a domestic violence ruling against them to relinquish their weapons to law enforcement within 24 hours. It would also prohibit transferring the weapons to family members or friends.

The current law allows weapons be given to the sheriff, family members or friends within 60 days.

“For years, victims and advocates have fought tirelessly for passage of this commonsense and urgently needed reform,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a press release. “We know that too many families are being torn apart by domestic violence and too many domestic abusers use firearms to kill, injure and terrorize their victims. The reforms passed today are long overdue and will make important strides to protect victims and reduce violence.”

Anne Ard, executive director of Centre Safe (formerly the Centre County Women’s Resource Center) said she is “thrilled” the bill passed because the organization has known there were “major problems” with PFAs for years.

“One of the biggest ones, frankly, was that when it was ordered that defendants needed to relinquish their weapons — if there was a protection order in place — they had 60 days to do that. That’s crazy. That’s too much,” Ard said.

She also said it was a “good, solid” bill that corrects some of the inherent issues in the current law.

“Unless you use a weapon in the context of domestic violence, this bill won’t have any impact on your gun rights whatsoever,” Ard said.

The bill comes on the heels of other area domestic violence-related murders in the years since Miscavish’s death.

Last year, authorities in Clearfield County said Cody Bush, 26, shot and killed ex-girlfriend Victoria Schultz, 21, and her mother, Beth Schultz, 47, before killing himself shortly after. Bush had been served with a PFA the day before the murders.

People hold candles and purple balloons before the balloon release during a candlelight vigil for the Schultz family in November 2017 at Osceola Mills Community Park. Centre Daily Times, file

Conklin said the first 24 hours after a PFA order has been issued or a domestic violence conviction is the “most crucial” time in murder cases because that is when individuals feel estranged and don’t have full control of their senses.

“This is not a gun issue. This is not a rights issue. This is simply saving lives,” Conklin said. “And guess what — the life you save may be the individual or the perpetrator who had 24 hours to cool off and wasn’t able to go in and access that weapon and do that immediately.”

In a press release, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said the legislation works to protect victims of domestic violence, not to take firearms away from responsible gun owners.

“The legislation only takes firearms out of the hands of those who have been through a hearing process or have been convicted and are deemed by the court to be violent and a threat,” he said.