It would be more than ironic if both chambers of the S.C. General Assembly vote to tighten laws on criminal domestic violence and neither bill actually becomes law.
It would be infuriating in light of convincing evidence that current laws are inadequate and domestic partners in South Carolina are dying at a sickeningly high rate as a result.
But unless the House and the Senate manage to get on the same page, it is possible that things will stay where they are.
Both the House and the Senate are to be commended for moving forward to address the scourge of criminal domestic violence. The Senate passed a bill in February that toughens penalties for criminal domestic violence and restricts gun ownership for those who have been convicted.
The House is in the process of considering a bill of its own that also strengthens laws, and calls for public school students to be taught how to recognize domestic violence and what to do about it.
But at present the House bill includes no provision for keeping guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers. That’s a huge hole in the House bill.
Sen. Larry Martin, who led the Senate’s efforts to pass a bill, is frustrated that the House hasn’t just considered the Senate bill and put the process closer to resolution.
But the House, which invested a lot of time and effort in special hearings and debate, thinks its bill is superior.
And bearing down on the whole situation is the legislative crossover deadline of May 1. After the deadline, a Senate bill can pass to the House only if the House agrees unanimously. The Senate must agree by a two-thirds vote to take up a House bill after the crossover day.
It’s fairly routine in South Carolina government that time runs out before lawmakers finish what they profess is so important.
In light of the limited time and the two bodies’ mutual interest in addressing domestic violence, it makes sense for the House to turn its attention to the Senate bill. It can be amended as extensively as members feel necessary, and then the two chambers can hash things out.
Continuing the present standoff signals to citizens that lawmakers are less interested in curbing domestic violence and more interested in getting their way.
Indeed, to some it appears that the House’s true motivation is to make sure guns are not restricted for people convicted of domestic violence, as the Senate bill calls for. If that’s the case, it is an irresponsible and misguided interpretation of the Second Amendment. Already guns are banned for people who have been adjudicated as mentally ill and for convicted felons. Why not for people who brutally beat their spouses or domestic partners?
According to the Center to Prevent Gun Violence, more than two-thirds of deaths due to criminal domestic violence involve firearms. And a domestic assault is 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force.
As illuminated in a series of news reports that began in The Post and Courier last year, South Carolina has one of the worst records for women being killed by men. That reality should be what moves legislators to get criminal domestic reform passed — and to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence perpetrators.