On gun laws, Legislature is ‘waffle’ house

State legislators characteristically did nothing in 2012 after John Walton, of Butler Twp., Luzerne County, retrieved a gun that a court had ordered him to surrender and used the weapon to kill his estranged wife and himself.

Under state law, Walton was allowed to surrender the gun to his brother, Donald, after John Walton’s wife, Stacy, had obtained a protection from abuse order against him.

After Stacy Walton withdrew the PFA, John Walton retrieved the weapon from his brother, violating a portion of the law that requires the court to issue an order clearing the return of a weapon under such circumstances.

Donald Walton later pleaded guilty to returning the gun without the court’s permission and was sentenced to 42 months of probation.

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because it mirrors the situation in Nashville, Tennessee, regarding the recent mass murder at a Waffle House restaurant.

Alleged mass murderer Travis Reinking, who had been ordered by a court to relinquish his weapon after breaching a barrier at the White House, was allowed to turn it over to his father. Police in Nashville say Reinking’s father returned to his son the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that was used in the shootings.

State Rep. Tom Killion, a Chester County Republican, has introduced a bill to change the law for the better, but even that should be improved before the Legislature votes.

It would require someone under a protection order to turn over weapons to police or a licensed gun dealer, rather than to a family member, within 48 hours rather than the current law’s 60 days.

Killion should change the bill to allow only police to hold the weapons under the court order. And the window to turn over the guns should be reduced from 48 hours to immediately.

Another bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf and Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens, both of Montgomery County, would create “extreme risk protection orders” that would allow a court to seize the weapons of someone who exhibits extreme threatening behavior. That was the case of Nicholas Cruz, who allegedly killed 17 people Feb. 14 at a Florida high school.

Lawmakers should act quickly to give meaning to protection orders. Prosecuting someone later for prematurely returning a gun to a killer does nothing for the victims.