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Philadelphia Struggles with Domestic Abuse Gun Seizures

Pennsylvania has had a law requiring gun relinquishment for domestic abusers since 2019, but enforcement of it has been uneven, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Nearly two-thirds of domestic violence homicide victims in Pennsylvania were killed with a firearm last year, and women are five times as likely to die if their abuser has a gun, according to domestic violence advocacy groups. The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office received 10,028 protection orders that required relinquishment from January 2020 to June 2023, but only 13% of those cases were completed, a rate far lower than in surrounding suburban counties, according to state police data. The low compliance rate in Philadelphia persisted through the pandemic’s spike in partner and family member shootings. Homicide cases involving domestic violence increased 64% in Philadelphia between 2019 and 2022 and nonfatal gun assaults increased nearly 83%, Philadelphia police said. This year is on track to match last year's record violence.

Since taking office in 2020, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal has set a goal of achieving a 70% gun relinquishment rate and has requested millions of dollars in additional funding to hire more deputies amid an office-wide staffing shortage. It is unclear whether any additional deputies have been assigned to the Protection-from-abuse Enforcement Unit since then, although the gun relinquishment rate had risen slightly to 16% in 2023 through June. Advocates have noted that successful enforcement requires the cooperation of police and judicial authorities, as well as consistent bookkeeping in the Statewide Domestic Violence Database, which records thousands of cases annually. However, without effective enforcement, Philadelphia's backlog of cases continues to increase at a much higher rate than in neighboring counties, exacerbating the distrust of law enforcement and putting survivors at risk, especially when they are often waiting months or years for their cases to be heard by a court. “When a survivor is getting a final PFA, all of those steps are making an abusive partner more and more angry and more and more dangerous,” said Marcella Nyachogo, director of the bilingual domestic violence program at Lutheran Settlement House. “You can kill someone in less than 24 hours.”


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