Only time will tell if South Carolina’s new domestic violence law is effective in keeping guns out of abusers’ hands, officials said.
Last year, the Legislature passed a number of domestic violence reforms, including provisions to strip abusers of gun rights, though lower-level offenders can later get those rights restored. Severe crimes carry a lifetime gun ban, and the second-most severe offense would carry a 10-year ban. Lesser charges would include three-year gun bans.
The changes came in the wake of The Post and Courier’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series Till Death Do Us Part that analyzed the legislative and societal factors that contributed to the deaths of more than 300 women.
Because the law went into effect in June, it’s too early to gauge its effect, several officials said. Thom Berry, a spokesman for the State Law Enforcement Division, said the agency had no immediately available statistics on the number of abusers who lost their weapons.
Sara Barber, executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said she doesn’t have a clear sense of how the new provisions are being implemented. The data isn’t available yet, and it might take a year or two to determine what effect the change has had, she said.
Barber, a member of the governor’s domestic violence task force, said she has been talking with a group of college students about launching a project to monitor courtrooms statewide to see how the gun ban is being applied. Advocates may also ask the state court administration to begin tracking the application of the law, she said.
Advocates had hoped the final law would mirror the less-nuanced federal gun ban on domestic abusers possessing guns, though no push is underway at present to amend and strengthen firearms provisions in the new law, Barber said. They are hopeful, however, that the Legislature will support proposals to usher in universal background checks for gun purchases, which would further inhibit abusers from using loopholes to obtain firearms.
Other experts said the new law almost might take appeals courts decisions before prosecutors know how exactly it can be used.
Glenn Smith and Andrew Knapp contributed to this report.