ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida woman’s effort to protect herself from domestic violence has become a flashpoint in the debate over gun rights and victims’ safety.
Courtney Irby gave her estranged husband’s guns to police after he was charged with domestic violence-aggravated battery, only to find herself arrested for theft.
Now a Florida lawmaker and gun safety advocates are championing her cause, asking a state attorney on Monday drop the charges, while gun rights advocates want her prosecuted.
Courtney Irby spent six days in jail on charges of armed burglary and grand theft after she retrieved the assault rifle and handgun from her husband’s apartment and gave them to the Lakeland Police. Joseph Irby was spending one day in jail at the time, accused of ramming into her car after a June 14 divorce hearing.
After her husband’s arrest, Courtney Irby petitioned for a temporary injunction for protection, which was granted. Federal law prohibits people under a domestic violence restraining order from possessing guns, but it’s up to local law enforcement to enforce it, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Courtney Irby told police that she believed he wouldn’t turn in his guns himself, so she took action. According to her arrest report, she said she entered her husband’s apartment through a locked door without his permission and took the guns to a police station.
“So you’re telling me you committed an armed burglary?” the officer asked her.
“Yes, I am but he wasn’t going to turn them in so I am doing it,” the officer said she responded.
Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando tweeted that it’s “ridiculous” to arrest a woman in this kind of situation. She sent a letter Monday to State Attorney Brian Haas asking that Irby not be prosecuted. She cited research showing the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely a woman will be murdered.
“Ms. Irby was seeking help from the Lakeland Police Department and taking action to protect herself and her children,” Eskamani wrote. “Prosecuting Ms. Irby sets a scary precedent that if someone seeks help to escape abuse, they will be punished for it.”
While federal law prohibits people under domestic violence restraining orders and convicted of domestic violence from possessing guns, local law enforcement and prosecutors don’t have the tools they need to enforce those restrictions, Eskamani said in her letter to the state attorney.
“These loopholes are major contributors to the deadly relationship between domestic violence and firearms,” Eskamani said.
Joseph Irby’s charges involve an altercation that began with a shouting match after the divorce hearing. According to his arrest report, they both got into their cars and then he used his vehicle to strike her back bumper several times, running her off the road.
Courtney Irby told a responding officer that “she feared for her life,” his arrest report said.
As Joseph Irby was being placed into a patrol car, he called her “a man hater,” the arrest report said.
In requesting that she be released on bond, Courtney Irby’s attorney argued that she didn’t commit theft since she didn’t take the guns for her personal use and didn’t benefit by taking them.
Spokesmen for the Lakeland Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately return requests for comment on Monday.
Gun rights advocates have been tweeting in favor of prosecution and trolling Rep. Eskamani’s Twitter account, while Courtney Irby’s supporters launched a fundraising campaign for her legal fees. She’s also getting support from Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting.
Guttenberg tweeted that Irby was “an abused woman trying to protect herself from an abusive husband.”