LAKELAND, 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 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 guns 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.
The judge had ordered Joseph Irby during the hearing not to use, possess or carry any weapons or ammunition. 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.
“‘So you’re telling me you committed an armed burglary?’ Irby stated, `Yes, I am but he wasn’t going to turn them in so I am doing it,”‘ the officer wrote.
Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando tweeted that it’s “ridiculous” to arrest a woman in this kind of situation. On Monday, the lawmaker sent a letter 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.”
Joseph Irby’s charges involve an altercation that began with a shouting match after the divorce hearing. They both got into their cars and then Joseph Irby used his vehicle to strike the back bumper of Courtney Irby’s car several times and ran her off the road, according to his arrest report.
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.
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.”
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