The statistics are stunning: Last year, the rate of women in South Carolina killed by men was twice the national rate. It's bad, and it's been bad for years. Indeed, South Carolina leads the nation in the rate of deaths due to domestic abuse.

And the stories told by Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Natalie Caula Hauff in The Post and Courier's five-day "Till Death Do Us Part" series shine a revealing light on domestic abuse in our state. Stories of women beaten, strangled and shot dead by men they lived or had lived with. Stories of little children watching in horror as men injured or killed their mothers.

And stories of a Legislature that demonstrates more concern for pets than people. Members didn't pass even one of the bills introduced last session to prevent domestic abuse or protect its victims, but it did pass a bill that gives shelter to pets left alone because of domestic abuse.

South Carolinians like to talk about Southern hospitality and the nuances of being ladies and gentlemen. They forget to mention the persistent problem of violent domestic abuse here.

Many fathers teach their children to hunt and fish and respect nature, but too many also teach them, by example, that it's OK for husbands to disrespect - and physically mistreat - their wives. And that women should bear up.

The gun lobby is powerful in South Carolina - powerful enough to thwart attempts to adopt the most reasonable laws to protect people from domestic abuse. In most states, people who have been convicted of domestic abuse or who are facing charges of it cannot possess firearms. In some states, police are authorized to seize weapons from the home.

Not here. The Second Amendment seems to hold more weight in South Carolina than the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.

The S.C. Legislature did manage to pass a law barring people who have been adjudicated as mentally ill from purchasing firearms.

But it hasn't done anything about keeping weapons away from people who use their wives or girlfriends as punching bags. Or worse.

In a state where 36,000 incidents of domestic abuse are reported each year, the priorities seem unconscionably wrong.

It's long past time for South Carolina to more effectively combat domestic abuse. The Post and Courier series identifies laws that need to be strengthened, attitudes that need to change, shelters for battered women that need to be established and clergy who need to make sure their congregants know that Scripture doesn't condone wife-beating.

South Carolina's leaders need to stop looking in the other direction and do what needs to be done to stop the deadly cycle of domestic violence.

As our series unfolds over the next four days we expect that there will be many more South Carolinians who will recognize just how necessary those changes are.