A new state law that went into effect in April requires that people turn over any weapons in their possession within 24 hours if they have been convicted of domestic abuse or are the subject of a final protection from abuse order. But as Claudia Vargas of The Inquirer found, police are often failing to enforce the rule.
Q: What did your reporting find?
A: My reporting found that the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office has a large backlog of weapon relinquishment cases and that the majority of Philadelphia defendants were not turning in weapons within the required 24 hour period.
Q: What’s perpetuating the problem?
A: The Sheriff’s Office is not investigating weapon relinquishment cases as soon as they receive them. In addition, the Philadelphia Police is not communicating with the Sheriff’s Office once a protection from abuse order is served. And so, according to the Sheriff’s Office, they are having a hard time enforcing orders because defendants have 24 hours from when the order is served to turn in weapons. Although the Sheriff’s Office could serve orders when they knock on defendants’ doors, they are not doing so.
Q: What’s the potential solution(s) to make the law workable?
A: The law seems to be working fine for the suburban counties. And so, the law itself isn’t flawed. What Philadelphia could do is improve communication between Philadelphia Police and the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff deputies could also take copies of the court orders when going out to investigate cases in case the person says he or she has not been served when they arrive. They can then immediately serve an order and take possession of any weapons.
Q: Why should taxpayers care about this issue?
A: The law and the lack of enforcement can have an impact on public safety. In one case we highlighted in the story, an accused abuser used a revolver to shoot his cousin in the neck, critically injuring him, even though he should not have had the weapon following a relinquishment order under the new law. If police had served the order and followed up to make sure he had no weapons, maybe the defendant’s cousin wouldn’t have a bullet lodged in his neck.
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— Claudia Vargas, The Inquirer