The past two weeks have seen an unprecedented focus on the extraordinary damage and loss caused by domestic violence in South Carolina. The Post and Courier's "Till Death Do Us Part" series has thrown into sharp relief the contrast between our "Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places" slogan and the reality of life for many living in the shadow of abuse.
In response, S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell has appointed a 10-person legislative committee to focus on reducing domestic violence in the state by improving criminal domestic violence laws - and its first order of business will be to prepare a piece of legislation for the start of the 2015 legislative session.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Larry Martin said combatting domestic violence would be a priority in the Senate as well.
Speaker Harrell and Sen. Martin should be commended for their leadership. The special committee signifies an integral first step in recognizing the staggering issue at hand.
As a domestic violence prevention advocate and the Executive Director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, I understand how complex our state's history of domestic violence is and that there isn't just one easy solution. But I do know there are common-sense steps we can take to make our communities safer and to save lives.
South Carolina's reputation of being the deadliest state in the nation for women is attributed in part to its rate of female gun homicide. FBI data reveals that between 2000 and 2012, 57 percent of women shot to death were killed by their intimate partners. Of those women murdered, 42 percent were shot to death by their current dating partners.
As high as these numbers are, they are still an undercount of the link between deadly gun violence and domestic violence as FBI statistics do not include homicides committed by ex-dating partners. They do, however, underscore the fact that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be murdered.
Currently, there are no state laws in South Carolina that prevent individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or subject to domestic violence restraining orders from buying or possessing firearms.
This troubling reality should not go unspoken when Speaker Harrell's committee comes together to discuss possible solutions to the domestic violence epidemic that plagues our state.
Keeping women safe from gun violence shouldn't be seen as a threat to the overwhelming majority of our state's gun owners.
Gun owners understand better than anyone that with rights come responsibilities and keeping firearms away from convicted domestic abusers is simply common sense. Indeed, such measures are not without precedent and have been enacted in many states in all regions of the country.
Earlier this year, in a show of bipartisan consensus, the Louisiana state legislature enacted new laws aimed at preventing domestic abusers from maintaining possession of guns. Gov. Bobby Jindal understood that the safety of Louisiana women was on the line and he signed the bill into law.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also signed life-saving legislation into law this year to ensure domestic abusers are no longer able to possess firearms.
Speaker Harrell and Sen. Martin have acknowledged that South Carolinians need to tackle the problem of domestic violence head-on.
Now it's time for them to examine those legislative solutions that we know can save lives.
Addressing the intersection of guns and domestic violence would be an essential step in making sure we're doing everything we can do to keep women safe.
I'm hopeful they'll do the right thing.
Sara Barber is executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
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