State Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Dillsburg, defended her vote against House Bill 2060 and other firearms legislation in a letter sent out to constituents this month.
In the letter, Keefer argued that the bills were “knee jerk reactions” to the #MeToo movement and failed to address the underlying causes of gun violence, which Keefer cites as “men being relegated to the margins of society” and the “continued disintegration of our society” caused by welfare programs.
Keefer’s defense of her position on the bills follows her vote against the highly publicized HB 2060, a bill that places further restrictions on firearms possession by people under protection from abuse orders, known as PFAs, issued by a Pennsylvania court.
It also comes only a month before voters will go to the polls for Keefer’s re-election bid in the 92nd District, although the communication is allowed under state House rules, Keefer said.
HB 2060 ultimately cleared the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf this month. Keefer, a Republican, said she received some pushback for opposing HB 2060, but said she has received more support for her stance than criticism.
“We had at least 300 emails, phone calls, and letters from constituents regarding those bills I addressed in the letter,” Keefer said this week. “It was inundating us and we needed to provide a response.”
The 92nd District includes Monroe Township in Cumberland County as well as most of northern York County, including Carroll Township and Dillsburg Borough.
Two residents who contacted The Sentinel expressed concern over the timing and tone of the letter.
“It does concern me,” recipient Jo Margolis said. “The timing concerns me, and I think the dialogue has gotten so foul around this whole thing.”
Under House rules, representatives cannot use their legislative funds to send “mass communications” to constituents within 60 days of an election in which they are a candidate.
However, “mass communication” is defined as more than 50 pieces of identical mail in a single day. The letter regarding gun legislation was sent out in several daily batches, each under 50 letters, Keefer said.
Further, the letter was only sent to people who have contacted her office regarding firearms regulations, Keefer said. House rules exempt communication “in response to inquiries or affirmative requests” from the definition of “mass communication.”
In her letter, Keefer singles out HB 2060 as well as three other bills she says she’ll vote against, if they come to the House floor: house bills 1872, 273 and 2227.
Those bills would, respectively, enact a ban on certain devices that increase a weapon’s rate of fire, including so-called bump stocks; create a voluntary list of people who cannot buy firearms, similar to the state’s voluntary no-casino-entry list for problem gamblers; and create an “Extreme Risk Protection Order” that would expedite certain PFAs.
Keefer argues, as have several conservatives who oppose the bills, that the measures are unconstitutional.
HB 2060 requires that any person against whom a final PFA is issued, following adjudication, turn in their firearms to law enforcement. Such a turn-in was previously not mandatory and was up to the discretion of the judge.
People previously also could give their firearms to a third party, including a family member, for safekeeping, an option that is eliminated in HB 2060 by requiring law enforcement to hold the weapons for the duration of the PFA.
“The laws were written so that the judge could use discretion,” Keefer said this week. “Now, there’s no discretion whatsoever.”
Because PFAs are civil procedures, she said, the person who may lose access to their guns is not afforded the full due process of a criminal proceeding.
“The process that we have in place now already doesn’t have full due process,” Keefer said. “To take it further out of the judge’s hands makes it even more of a slippery slope.”
However, the mandatory relinquishment of firearms under HB 2060 only applies to final PFAs that have been adjudicated before both parties. In these cases, under PA law, the plaintiff must prove with a “preponderance of evidence” that abuse has occurred.
Judges still have discretion regarding firearms in temporary PFAs, which can be issued urgently without the defendant present, but must be followed by a hearing within ten days.
“The due process argument is just inaccurate,” said Julie Bancroft with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “The procedure and discretion for temporary orders is not affected at all by this bill.”
Keefer’s feelings on the matter go beyond the due process issue. She blames the #MeToo social media movement, which encourages victims to speak out about about sexual misconduct, for the weaponization of PFAs.
Her letter says that the causes of domestic and gun violence are “men being relegated to the margins of society, and for our young boys to be given fewer and fewer opportunities to stand out as boys and be boys that grow into good men.”
“If you’re a woman you’re to be believed. That’s what we’ve been clobbered with in the press and on TV,” Keefer said in an interview. “When I was in college, you know how many people got drunk and hooked up? And now it’s going to be automatically the male’s fault? She can come back and say, ‘oh my gosh, I was attacked.’”
“You have situations where people hook up, you have remorse the next day, and you can make whatever allegation and automatically the guy is now a rapist or a sexual assaulter,” Keefer said.
Such false allegations and presumption of guilt can result in punitive PFAs, Keefer said.
“The number is over 50 percent of initial PFAs that do not turn into final PFAs. People do use the PFAs as weapons, and there are no consequences for that,” Keefer said.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence disputes that claim.
While the majority of temporary PFAs issued do not result in final PFAs, this is not an indication that the initial charges were unfounded, Bancroft said.
Between 2 and 8 percent of initial PFAs, depending on the statistical sample, are filed under false pretenses, Bancroft said.
Many initial PFAs do not result in final PFAs because the victim is afraid to continue the case, Bancroft said. They also may have moved away, or simply did not have the time or resources to pursue the case in court. In some cases, a consent agreement or settlement may be reached between the victim and perpetrator that does not involve a PFA.
“There are a whole host of reasons that people may not seek a final PFA,” Bancroft said. “To say that the ratio between temporary and final indicates that the PFAs are frivolous is untrue.”
Further, Bancroft said, “there is already a provision that someone can be charged with a crime for fabricating information in a PFA.”
In her letter, Keefer also blames mass shootings and domestic violence on social programs.
“Everything about our welfare and education systems contribute to this breakdown and the continued disintegration of our society,” Keefer wrote, adding that “I supported the work requirements for welfare recipients, only to see this governor veto it.”
Wolf recently vetoed legislation creating work requirements for Medicaid. Cash welfare, as defined under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, already has a work requirement.
Keefer said her assertion was based on welfare benefits being greater for single-parent households, which Keefer said encourages men to leave the home.
Keefer also wrote in the letter that “under this governor PA has seen its welfare rolls increase exponentially.”
This is true only if one considers the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion, which Wolf opted Pennsylvania into, as “welfare.”
TANF rolls stood at 123,658 people in June 2018, according to the state Department of Human Services data, a decrease in TANF use of roughly 35 percent since 2014.