Poll: Strong majority of S.C. voters favor gun ban for domestic abusers

Richland County investigators confer outside the home where 27-year-old Teacora Thomas was shot to death by her estranged husband in October 2012. Guns were involved in 65 percent of the 333 domestic homicides since 2005 in which women in South Carolina were killed.

An overwhelming majority of South Carolina voters support adopting a law to help police keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, a new poll has found.

The statewide survey from Public Policy Polling found that 76 percent of those questioned support passing a law that would prevent someone from acquiring guns if he or she has been convicted of criminal domestic violence or is subject to a restraining order.

The poll also revealed that 64 percent would support a law requiring those abusers to turn in any guns in their possession.

The results are based on a survey of 868 South Carolina voters Feb. 12-15. Eighty percent were surveyed through an automated telephone phone; 20 percent were questioned online in an effort to reach those without phone. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent, Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen said.

Public Policy Polling, based in Raleigh, bills itself as an extremely accurate, zero-bias operation, but some pundits have accused the firm of being “Democrat-leaning.” The current survey, however, follows previous polls by The Post and Courier and Winthrop University that also showed strong voter support for a gun ban on domestic abusers.

“This is pretty powerful in such a Second Amendment state where gun rights are talked about so much,” said Gibbs Knotts, political science professor at the College of Charleston. “But when you tie it to an issue like domestic violence, it seems people are not split. These are pretty strong poll numbers.”

The numbers come at a time when state lawmakers are deeply embroiled in debate over how best to reform domestic violence laws in South Carolina, which has ranked among the nation’s deadliest for women for more than a decade. The state has led that list three times, including in 2013.

Disarming abusers has become the most contentious element of that reform effort, pitting gun rights advocates against police, prosecutors, domestic violence workers and others who say a firearms ban would be a crucial step in improving protections for women. About 65 percent of the 333 women killed in South Carolina domestic homicides since 2005 were slain with guns, a Post and Courier analysis found.

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is pushing a bill that would ban anyone convicted of domestic violence from having a firearm for a decade. He indicated this week, however, that concessions might be necessary to win support from those who fear the ban encroaches on Second Amendment rights.

Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, is expected to file an amendment next week that would give judges the discretion to decide whether to take guns away from first-time offenders convicted of third-degree domestic violence.

The Legislature’s current effort to strengthen penalties and the appointment of a task force to look at the culture of violence that perpetuates it are credited to The Post and Courier’s series “Till Death Do Us Part” last year, which examined the death toll from domestic abuse in South Carolina. Since the series was published in August, 22 more people have died in domestic confrontations in the Palmetto State. Guns were used in the 80 percent of those killings.