CDV laws must deal with guns

Victim advocate Lynn Graham holds the silhouette that represents Zakiya Lawson, who was killed in domestic violence this year as part of the 17th annual Silent Witness Ceremony held at the Statehouse Tuesday October 7, 2014. Grace Beahm/Staff

It appears the South Carolina Legislature is serious about dealing with domestic violence. Finally.

Both the House and the Senate are poised to move forward with legislation to address the state’s shameful problem.

But unless legislation keeps guns out of the hands of abusers, measures will fall short, and so far such a ban is not part of the House bill.

For years, South Carolina has been one of the deadliest states for women. Numerous attempts to address the problem legislatively have gone nowhere. And measures expected to be introduced in the House and Senate could also die, as have previous bills.

But there is reason to hope that shortcomings in both pending bills will be amended to provide South Carolina’s residents better protection from domestic abuse by raising awareness of the problem, training judges and law enforcement officers to deal with it more effectively, providing more safety for victims and improving programs intended to rehabilitate batterers.

But victims’ safety would be compromised if the law fails to keep guns out of the hands of abusers. Federal law bans those convicted of domestic violence from buying or possessing guns, but South Carolina doesn’t have its own legislation enabling it to enforce the ban.

Judges can deny abusers the right to own firearms, but they often opt not to do so. That leaves deadly weapons in the possession of people who have proven violent — a recipe for disaster.

It would be far better if the federal law were mirrored in state law.

The House bill, the work of an eleven-member bipartisan committee led by Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, is expected to be completed this week.

A similar Senate bill sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, is also expected to be presented for a hearing this week.

The House bill calls for establishing a system of penalties that are commensurate with the crime’s severity; forming a fatality review committee to assess domestic homicides as a way of looking for weaknesses in the law or how it is applied; requiring the state Department of Education to draft a health curriculum to teach children in grades 6-8 about what domestic abuse is and appropriate ways to deal with it; and giving local solicitors the authority to choose which court will prosecute each domestic violence case.

Critics have said that tougher laws won’t stop domestic abuse — only a culture shift will.

In fact, both are necessary. South Carolinians need to learn that abuse is not a way to deal with problems.

But when abuse happens, properly administered laws can make sure the perpetrator is punished appropriately and given help to mend his ways.

Laws — especially prohibiting abusers from possessing guns — can also protect victims and their families from further victimization. And hopefully better laws can move South Carolina off the list of the deadliest states for women.