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Reuters/Andrew Innerarity
This Florida man has a gun range at home, thanks to a legal loophole.
MENS REA

Florida woman jailed for taking and turning in her abuser’s guns

By Ephrat Livni

Courtney Taylor Irby is anxiously waiting to hear from Polk County, Florida prosecutors. They are considering pursuing criminal charges against her for burglary and firearm grand theft. She was arrested on June 15, spent six nights in jail, and is now out on bond.

Her crimes consist of entering the apartment of Joseph Irby, her estranged husband, taking his guns, and turning them in to the Lakeland police. He was in custody overnight at the time, facing a charge of aggravated domestic battery for driving his wife’s car off the road after a divorce proceeding. The officer asked her when arrived with the weapons, “So you’re telling me you committed an armed burglary?” She told the officer she did, but felt she had to for her and her children’s safety.

Nonetheless, she was arrested. Irby has already spent more time in jail for her actions than her husband did for running her off the road—six nights compared to his one—and it seems she may yet go back.

The matter is drawing state and national attention to Florida’s gun policies, or lack thereof, and the dangers domestic abuse victims face as a result of them.

Orange County representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando, said in a statement on June 21 that the case “demonstrates once more the dangerous linkage between intimate partner violence and access to firearms.”

Irby had earlier applied for a temporary restraining order against her husband, the lawmaker noted. Under federal law, she said, people convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or subject to a final domestic violence restraining order can’t possess a gun. But in Florida, police still have to petition for a gun’s removal and there is no system in place to enforce the federal prohibition.

Eskamani said Irby should not have had to resort to getting her husband’s guns herself. But police never filed a petition for his weapons after the restraining order, so left her with no other option.

“We should be outraged by her arrest, and Irby should not be prosecuted by the local State Attorney’s office,” she urged.

Lakeland police chief Ruben Garcia, however, defended the arrest to local news station WFLA. “We have to safeguard every citizen’s rights. When a case is brought to us, we have to look at all sides of the cases and come to the fairest conclusion we can for everyone involved,” he said.

In 2018, Eskamani proposed a bill that would require someone convicted of a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence to surrender all firearms and ammunition to law enforcement upon conviction, minimizing the need for police to file petitions to seize their guns on a case-by-case basis. “Our bill never got a hearing, but we plan to refile it in 2020,” she told the Ledger.

The Polk County sheriff’s office confirmed Eskamani’s contentions. Spokesman Brian Bruchey explained that there is no automatic enforcement method to ensure someone ordered to give up their guns as part of an injunction or pre-trial release agreement actually does so. “We really don’t have authority to take firearms from people…We can’t do anything, unless they willfully do it—release them to us.”

Meanwhile, Polk County state attorney Brian Haas is mulling Courtney’s charges. He told NPR on June 25 that he hopes to come to a decision about whether to proceed with her prosecution “expeditiously,” once he has all the information, but is still waiting for reports from the Lakeland police.