Last updated: July 02. 2014 11:14PM - 4683 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com

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A Luzerne County man who championed the constitutional right to acquire fully automatic machine guns lost his weapons Tuesday due to a protection-from-abuse application filed by his wife of 21 years.

Foster Township resident Gale Braddock said she sought a PFA against her husband, Thomas, because he is a “severe alcoholic” and has been “acting erratically” for months. She said she feared for her life when he had access to a gun collection that includes semi- and fully automatic weapons and also accused him of mentally and verbally abusing her.

“He is not mentally stable enough to have weapons,” her PFA application filed in Luzerne County Court says.

Thomas Braddock, who was evicted from his home when sheriff deputies came to collect the weapons Tuesday night, said Wednesday he is mentally and physically sound and drinks but does not consider himself an alcoholic.

He said the PFA filing is loaded with “fraudulent” statements, including assertions he abused his wife. He also disagrees with the seizure of his weapons before the allegations against him are adjudicated.

“I believe it’s unconstitutional for them to take my weapons without cause,” he said.

County Sheriff Brian Szumski said his deputies seized Braddock’s guns and put them in secure county storage because a temporary protection from abuse order signed by the court ordered Braddock to relinquish “any and all weapons.”

“As per statute, we keep any weapons we seize in our care, custody and control until PFAs expire and defendants petition the court for return of those weapons,” Szumski said.

A court hearing on Gale Braddock’s request for a permanent PFA has been scheduled for July 8, though she said her lawyer isn’t available that day and will be requesting a rescheduled proceeding at a later date.

Thomas Braddock publicly complained a year ago when prior interim county sheriff John Robshaw had refused to sign off on requests for Class III permits allowing fully automatic machine guns, weapon silencers and short-barrel shotguns and rifles.

The federal form to transfer Class III weapons from dealers to individuals requires the “chief law enforcement officer” in that jurisdiction — which is typically the county sheriff in Pennsylvania — to certify he or she has no information indicating the applicant will use the transferred item for an illegal purpose. Braddock said he couldn’t turn to a police chief because Foster Township doesn’t have a municipal police department.

Robshaw has said he does not believe citizens should possess these items and didn’t want to be held responsible if they were involved in a crime.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does its own extensive background checks and ultimately decides if these weapon transfers are approved.

Without Robshaw’s sign-off, Braddock said he was forced to resort to another option to obtain a machine gun — creation of a special gun trust that assumes ownership of Class III weapons.

The federal government still conducts background checks of the primary trustee, but approval of the local chief law enforcement officer is not required for transfers to gun trusts, which have become more common.

A retired Army National Guard major, Braddock, 58, has said he has no criminal record and keeps his gun collection secure. He worked 20 years for the federal government, including 13 years for the Bureau of Prisons.

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