Tragic Prompt For Legislators

September 24, 2018

Despite an abundance of statistics and personal stories detailing the heightened danger of domestic disputes when guns are on hand, the state House abandoned the Capitol and imperiled women in July. It failed to pass a Senate-passed bill to improve safety before its eight-week-plus vacation.

Now, as the Legislature is about to reconvene for a few days, a gunman has provided House members with a reminder of why they need to attend to business.

Wednesday in Masontown, Fayette County, 61-year-old Patrick Dowdell shot up the magisterial district court where he was ordered to appear to face domestic abuse charges. He wounded four people before being shot to death by a police officer.

He was charged Aug. 25 with aggravated assault, terroristic threats, strangulation, simple assault and harassment. In her Aug. 27 request to the court for a protection-from-abuse order, Dowdell’s wife, Crystal, 39, said that Dowdell had choked her and threatened her with a gun after she asked him for a divorce.

The judge issued a protective order and instructed police to seize Dowdell’s weapons, but it was not clear, as the investigation began, whether police had executed the order.

Dowdell demonstrated what police know from experience: Domestic cases often are among the most explosive situations because of the emotions involved. That’s why it is crucial for the House to pass the Senate bill.

The legislation is not perfect, to the point that it might not have deterred Dowdell. But it would eliminate much of the discretion that violence-prone domestic partners have to hang on to their deadly weapons.

Under the bill, anyone served with a protective order automatically would have to hand over weapons to police or a federally licensed firearms dealer within 24 hours. Current law allows someone under such an order to turn over weapons to a friend or relative within 60 days, a requirement so lenient as to be functionally meaningless.

The bill also would create a separate charge for someone who refuses to relinquish the guns, a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison.

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