The imposition of a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order can affect many aspects of an alleged abuser's life. In some cases, federal and state laws can affect rights related to the possession of firearms.
What Are the Rules and Requirements To Relinquish Firearms Under a PFA?
Under Pennsylvania law, a current or former spouse or intimate partner or a family member can ask for a PFA from the courts. The court has the authority to stop people from accessing guns and other weapons under an ex-parte (temporary) PFA.
When the court issues a final PFA—the decision to affirm or dismiss PFA is made at a formal hearing issued within ten days of the granting of the temporary order—the law requires the court to prohibit the defendant from acquiring or possessing any firearms for the full length of the PFA. The defendant will also be required to temporarily relinquish any firearms or firearms-related licenses or permits.
Finally, the law requires courts to make this information available to the Pennsylvania State Police within 24 hours of the ruling. It will be entered into a state registry of both temporary and final protection orders.
How Can a Judge Order Firearms To Be Surrendered in the Event of an Ex-parte PFA?
In a request for an ex-parte, or temporary, PFA, the complainant can make a specific request for the alleged abuser's (defendant's) firearms to be taken away.
The judge will only grant this request if the judge is convinced that a firearm or other weapon was used in the alleged incident of abuse and/or that there is an immediate and present danger of abuse.
For the second consideration, there are a number of factors in play, including:
- If the temporary PFA will provide sufficient protection without the removal of guns
- Whether there is a history of the defendant having violated a past PFA
- Injury to anyone in the household as a result of the alleged abuse
- If the alleged abuse was a public incident and witnesses were involved
- Whether the alleged abuse included sexual violence, an escalation of violence, stalking, substance misuse, threats of suicide, killing or threatening to kill pets
If there is no specific mention of firearm restriction in the ex-parte PFA, none will be imposed pending the formal court hearing.
If the Judge Orders Firearms Removed, What Happens to Them?
In the case of a temporary order, the defendant must surrender the firearms within 24 hours of receiving a copy of the order.
Should the defendant be ordered to give up firearms at a court hearing for the final PFA, the defendant must relinquish them within 24 hours of the time of the judge's order.
Under Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act, the defendant cannot give the guns to a friend or family member for safekeeping but must turn the guns over to one of the following:
- Law enforcement, including the local sheriff. The agency will then provide the defendant with a signed and dated receipt, including a detailed description of the weapon. If the defendant fails to do so and cannot prove he/she has relinquished them to another approved party (see below), law enforcement must, at a minimum, provide immediate notice to the court, the plaintiff, who is protected by the PFA, and other relevant agencies.
- A licensed gun dealer, who can keep them until the order expires or sell them at the defendant's request. Both the gun dealer representative and the defendant must sign and execute an affidavit on a form specified by the Pennsylvania State Police in the presence of a sheriff. The form will include specifics about the weapons and acknowledge both the defendant's and the third party's legal obligations and limitations.
- A third party, which can be a commercial armory or the respondent's attorney, who will keep them until the order expires. As with the gun dealer's obligations, both the third-party person and the defendant must sign and execute an affidavit on a police-approved form indicating specifics of the weapons and the understanding of the rights and responsibilities of each party.
Once a temporary or final protection order expires or is dismissed, the defendant will fill out a weapons return form and submit it to the relevant authority, be it the sheriff or local police department. That authority will then notify the plaintiff that the defendant has requested that his/her firearms, ammunition, or other weapons be returned.
How Can an Attorney Keep Guns for a Client?
Under the 2017 Protection from Abuse Act, an attorney can act as the guardian of firearms for a client who is under a protection order.
Because a final PFA can last up to three years, storing guns—especially rare or sophisticated ones—can become expensive when utilizing a commercial armory, and some gun owners can feel uncomfortable turning over their firearms to the police.
The Lento Law Firm has a dedicated, highly-secure safe on-premises, as well as a dedicated staff member who tracks and maintains firearms owned by clients, should they so desire to keep them with us. We can provide peace of mind during the course of PFA proceedings.
How Can an Attorney Support Me Through the Trial-like PFA Process?
A Pennsylvania PFA petition is serious business. It can affect so many things in a person's life: Where they live, the amount of time they can spend with their kids, and their finances.
It can also impact the safety, well-being, and ownership rights regarding firearms for all involved. Having an attorney to handle the complicated and often daunting PFA process can ensure everything is done according to the relevant rules and regulations. An experienced legal professional can also help you prepare for and be your advocate during a PFA hearing.
Joseph D. Lento represents clients across the state as they go through the process of separation, divorce, and custody hearings, providing seasoned advocacy. If you or someone close to you needs legal advice on a Pennsylvania PFA, call the Lento Law Firm right away at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.