Keep guns away from abusers, panelists say

A panel discusses domestic violence in the state Tuesday at a town hall event. From left are Doug Pardue of The Post and Courier; Becky Callaham of Safe Harbor; Sara Barber of S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault; 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson; Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen; and State Rep. Peter McCoy.

Changing South Carolina’s laws to help local authorities remove firearms from convicted abusers is imperative to stem the state’s tide of domestic bloodshed, speakers at a town hall forum said Tuesday night.

Killings have remained a constant in South Carolina, even as domestic violence rates have tumbled 64 percent nationwide over the past two decades. The intersection of domestic and gun violence was heavily discussed at the domestic violence forum, hosted by The Post and Courier with WCIV-TV and the College of Charleston.

Becky Callaham, executive director of Safe Harbor, which runs three domestic violence shelters in the Upstate, said that when a gun is involved in a domestic assault, women are 23 times more likely to die than when other weapons or just hands are involved.

“That to me says so much,” she said. “If we get rid of the guns only in relationships where it’s proven domestic violence is already occurring, then I think we can eliminate many deaths. That doesn’t solve all the problems of all the issues of domestic violence in South Carolina —there are layers of things we need to change — but that is one critical piece to me that is common sense.”

The chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed adopting a state law that would mirror a federal law banning those convicted of domestic violence from buying or possessing guns. Though state law requires judges to inform convicted abusers of the federal ban, there is no enabling legislation to allow the state to enforce that prohibition.

The measure has been expected to draw heated debate at the Capitol. State Rep. Peter McCoy, who sits on a House committee charged with crafting proposed reform legislation, has previously said he thought the gun ban would gain little traction, but Tuesday night indicated the House reform bill is expected to include a proposal to bar batterers from possessing firearms.

He noted that Louisiana, under conservative Gov. Bobby Jindal, recently adopted a bill with language that mirrored the federal gun ban to address its domestic violence issues.

“We’re going to do the same thing here, too, and hope that makes a big difference,” he added.

Other issues discussed included more domestic violence training for family court judges, better prevention education for kids to break the cycle of abuse and engaging men in the campaign against domestic violence.

In addition to McCoy and Callaham, the panel included Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, Sara Barber, executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson and The Post and Courier special projects reporter Doug Pardue.

Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.