An alleged victim of domestic violence in Florida was arrested and charged with armed burglary after she removed her estranged husband’s guns from his residence and brought them to a police department for safekeeping.
The case exemplifies the practical challenges of disarming domestic abusers, especially in a state like Florida where almost one-third of the population owns firearms.
In June 2019, Courtney Irby was in court with her husband for a divorce hearing. According to an arrest affidavit, Joseph Irby followed his wife as she left the courthouse and began ramming his car into the back of her vehicle, ultimately driving her off the road. She called police “uncontrollably crying and advised that she was in fear for her life,” the affidavit reads. She also disclosed that she’d had a number of protective orders against her husband in the past.
Police arrested Joseph Irby and charged him with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Courtney Irby applied for a temporary injunction for protection.
The next morning, she testified at her husband’s hearing over the phone. A judge granted Joseph Irby pretrial release with the condition that he not own, possess or carry firearms. Hearing this, Courtney Irby went to her husband’s residence and located his two guns ― identified in court documents as an “assault rifle” and a handgun ― and took them to Lakeland Police Department.
According to court documents, she told the police officer on duty that her husband had been arrested the day before, and that she wanted to hand in his guns because she didn’t believe he would turn them in.
The police officer asked if she had taken her husband’s firearms without his permission. When she replied yes, he told her that she was confessing to a crime. Police arrested her and she was charged with armed burglary of a dwelling and grand theft of a firearm.
Lakeland Police Department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
“The police officer asked if she had taken her husband’s firearms without his permission. When she replied yes, he told her that she was confessing to a crime.”
While Joseph Irby was released the day after his domestic violence arrest, Courtney Irby spent five nights and six days behind bars before being granted bond.
Her lawyer, Lawrence Shearer, told HuffPost that his client was upset and distressed. He said that her actions did not amount to theft under Florida law because she was not taking the guns for herself but rather transferring them to the police department, where her husband could collect them at a later date.
“Theft is to deprive someone of the right or benefit of property,” he said. “She didn’t do either one of those. She was taking them to the police department for safekeeping.”
Shearer added: “I have faith in our state attorney’s office that they will do the right thing.”
The issue of disarming domestic abusers has been a key priority for gun safety groups over the past five years. In Florida, like many states, when a domestic abuser is ordered not to own firearms, there is no mechanism to ensure the perpetrator gives them up ― a loophole called the “relinquishment gap.”
The research is clear: When abusers are armed, their victims are far more likely to be killed. In the U.S., a woman is shot to death by an intimate partner every 16 hours. There are an estimated 200 domestic violence deaths in Florida each year. States that mandate alleged domestic violence perpetrators to hand over their firearms ― instead of just telling them no guns allowed ― experience fewer homicides.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said Florida police could also have sought a risk protection order to remove Joseph Irby’s guns, thanks to a “red flag” law passed by state legislators after the Parkland shooting.
“Instead, they jailed a domestic abuse victim and mother without bail for attempting to keep her family safe,” Watts said. “This man - who poses a clear danger to his family - currently has access to his arsenal.”
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.