If you are a victim and your abuser has a gun or you feel unsafe for other reasons, it is important to work with a victim advocate. The following organizations can help you find an advocate free of charge:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE;
- VictimConnect at (855) 484-2846;
- Any of the local domestic violence programs listed here.
It is also helpful to have a lawyer assist you, particularly when you are seeking a protection from abuse order. You can find a lawyer using the Pennsylvania Bar’s website. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact Pennsylvania Legal Aid at (717) 236-9486.
How to Get Protection
What kind of protection from abuse (PFA) orders are available in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania courts can issue three types of protection from orders. In two of these orders, the court can help protect you from gun violence or threats of gun violence by an intimate partner:
- Emergency PFA orders1*
- Temporary PFA orders2*
- (Final) PFA Orders3*
In certain cases, Pennsylvania courts can prohibit defendants* subject to temporary PFA orders from possessing* firearms and/or require them to to get rid of their firearms within 24 hours of being served* with the order.4 Defendants subject to temporary PFA orders who are required to get rid of their firearms are prohibited from possessing firearms for the duration of the order.5
Defendants who are subject to final PFA orders are prohibited from possessing firearms6 and must get rid of their firearms and any firearms license they have within 24 hours.7
How can you get a protection from abuse (PFA) order?
Click here to see if you are eligible for a protection from abuse order in Pennsylvania.
You can find your local Court of Common Pleas here.
Court forms and Pennsylvania’s official guide to getting a temporary or (final) PFA order can be found here under “Civil Protection Orders.”
What do I do if I do not qualify for protection as a victim of domestic violence but I still need protection from someone?
If you do not qualify for protection as a victim of domestic violence but need protection from someone (including a stranger, an acquaintance, or another person not covered under a domestic violence protection order), you might qualify for some other type of order. Contact VictimConnect at (855) 484-2846 or a lawyer for more information. You can find a lawyer using the Pennsylvania Bar’s website. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact Pennsylvania Legal Aid at (717) 236-9486.
How can the court help protect you?
Pennsylvania courts can prohibit defendants* subject to temporary PFA orders from possessing* firearms and/or require them to to get rid of their firearms within 24 hours of being served* with the order. 8 If the court requires the defendant subject to a temporary PFA order to get rid of their firearms, the defendant is also prohibited from possessing firearms for the duration of the order.9
Defendants subject to (final) PFA orders are prohibited from possessing firearms and must get rid of their firearms within 24 hours of the (final) PFA order being entered.10
Defendants subject to temporary PFA orders that require them to get rid of their firearms and defendants subject to (final) PFA orders must give their firearms to:
- Law enforcement;
- A third party who is not prohibited from possessing firearms; or
- A federally licensed firearms dealer (final PFA order only).11
If the defendant gives their firearms to a third party or a federally licensed firearms dealer, the defendant must provide the sheriff with a receipt (third party)12 or affidavit (federally licensed firearms dealer)13 from the person who took the guns.
In a temporary or (final) PFA order, the court can also order any relief*it believes is necessary to protect you. 14 Some of the things the court can order include:
- Requiring the defendant to turn over their firearms to local law enforcement immediately;
- Ordering law enforcement to retrieve the defendant’s firearms if the defendant does not turn them in within 24 hours or as ordered by the court;
- Requiring the defendant to appear before the court to self-report turning over the guns to law enforcement, a third party, or a federally-licensed dealer;
- Ordering law enforcement to follow up with the defendant to make sure they got rid of their firearms as ordered;
- Scheduling a follow up compliance hearing* to ensure that the defendant has not accessed additional firearms since the order was issued;
- Ordering law enforcement to go to your home at scheduled times to check in on your safety;
- Ordering the defendant to stay away from you, your children, your family, and anyone else in immediate danger, based on the threats and/or actions of the defendant;
- Ordering the defendant not to hurt you or threaten to hurt you in the future;
- If the guns are shared marital property, order the sale of the guns and divide the money between you;
- Anything else you need to be safe.
How will the court know what you need to protect you from the defendant’s firearms violence?
In your petition* and during any of the hearings* you participate in when you are seeking protection, you will have the opportunity to tell the court about the defendant’s* threats or acts of abuse, especially ones involving firearms. Every situation is different, and it is important to talk to a lawyer about your specific situation. You can find a lawyer using the Pennsylvania Bar’s website. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact Pennsylvania Legal Aid at (717) 236-9486.
Your story will help the court decide what relief* to give you. Whether you are filling out court forms or speaking directly to the court, it is important to tell the court about the violence you experienced (working with your lawyer, if you have one), especially if the defendant used or threatened to use a firearm against you, a member of your family, any member of the community, or your pet. Among other things, this may include telling the court:
- About incidents of physical violence or threats of physical violence and include dates wherever you can;
- How the defendant used firearms to hurt or threaten you, your family, your pet(s), or anyone in the community;
- If you fear that the defendant may use firearms violence or threats of firearms violence in the future;
- If the defendant has threatened to harm him/her/themself. This may be a sign that the defendant intends to use a dangerous weapon like a firearm against you, themself, or other people;
- If you can, the type(s), number, and location of firearms the defendant has access to.