A recent decision by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Smith v. Yusavage (unpublished), got me thinking about the problems surrounding gun ownership for spouses facing marital separation or divorce.
In Smith, one of the unmarried partners filed a Petition for Protection from Abuse (PFA) seeking a restraining order and eviction from their shared residence. Most of the allegations of abuse sound like the kind of shouting matches that might occur from time to time in many relationships. One striking feature of the testimony, however, was that one of the partners applied for a concealed weapons permit, and the other partner would not support the application because of safety concerns. This evidence, in my mind, seemed to convince the judge to issue the restraining order. The Superior Court affirmed.
(In an interesting side note, the Superior Court refused to consider the arguments made in pages 71-122 of the defendant’s brief because they exceeded the 70 page limit imposed by appellate procedural rules.)
I have seen cases where firearms mysteriously disappear after a marital separation, probably because they have been disposed by a spouse who is fearful. More than once I have heard of valuable guns being thrown into the trunk of a car without proper care and handling, diminishing their value. And Smith demonstrates that judges might be cautious about guns and their owners in the context of heated marital disputes.
My advice: if you are facing marital separation or divorce, consider whether to store the guns in a locker at a sporting club or a gun dealer, away from the marital residence. At the very least, if you keep them in your home, be sure they are properly stored under lock and key, away from children, where they do not present a threat to anyone. Your guns can be used against you, even if they are never fired. If the guns are registered in your name, and your spouse disposes of them improperly, could you be connected with their misuse in someone else’s hands? Will improper gun storage have an impact on your custody request? Can you satisfy a judge that there is no chance that your guns could be used to harm anyone? These questions are worth considering.