A bizarre chain of events in Florida brings an often overlooked aspect of domestic violence law into the limelight: The so-called “Relinquishment Gap” that can allow people to keep their guns after they have had a protection from abuse order filed against them.
Woman Secures PFA, Brings Husband's Guns to Police, Gets Arrested
After a court hearing for their contentious divorce, the husband followed his wife home and rear-ended her car several times, forcing her off the road.
He was arrested, charged with domestic assault, and spent the day in jail. While he was behind bars, his wife got a protection from abuse order against him. That order required him to surrender his guns.
Knowing that Florida is notorious for not following through on these requirements, the wife went to his house, took an assault rifle and a handgun, and brought them to the police.
She was promptly arrested for armed burglary and grand theft because she did not have her husband's permission to enter his apartment. Those charges were only reduced to a misdemeanor charge for trespassing after a public outcry that she was facing more time in jail than he was.
The Relinquishment Gap After a PFA Order
The law that requires suspected domestic abusers to surrender whatever firearms they own is a federal one. Found at 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), the federal law makes it illegal for someone to possess a gun if they are the subject of a restraining or protection order that deems them a “credible threat” to an “intimate partner.”
Federal agents do not enforce the law, though. The burden of following through on this provision falls on the state or, far more frequently, local law enforcement. Rules and regulations for enforcing the law vary depending on the state.
Some states, like Florida, don't have any rules. They merely say that someone under a restraining order and who gets caught in the possession of a prohibited firearm can go to jail. They do not send police to take the guns away.
This loophole is known as the “Relinquishment Gap,” and has plagued the enforcement of domestic violence laws and restraining orders across the country. For domestic abusers who have decided to use deadly force against their partner, the jail time is irrelevant.
Pennsylvania is one of the states that have rules in place to pave over this Relinquishment Gap. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6108 gives alleged abusers 24 hours to relinquish their weapons to the local sheriff, a private party, or even a gun dealer for safekeeping. Whoever receives the firearms has to provide a written receipt that says they have received the guns. That receipt is then brought to the court as proof that the person under the protection from abuse order has complied with its terms.
Domestic Violence Lawyer Joseph D. Lento Serves Philadelphia
Protection from abuse orders serve an integral role in Philadelphia's domestic violence laws, and criminal defense lawyer Joseph D. Lento can help. Whether you feel threatened by someone else or are trying to preserve your rights against one that has been filed against you, the legal guidance of attorney Lento can make a difference. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.