Senate on the right CDV track

Lawmakers, law enforcement officials and others join Attorney General Alan Wilson at rally for domestic violence reform in the rotunda of the South Carolina Statehouse Tuesday January 13, 2015. (Grace Beahm/Staff)

During the last decade, more than 300 women in South Carolina were killed by men who lived in their same households or were in intimate relationships with them. Two-thirds of those deaths involved guns.

But in that same decade, our state legislators failed to address the fact that South Carolina is one of the country’s deadliest states for women.

So it’s good news that the S.C. Senate has taken action to help protect spouses from domestic violence. A bill passed by an overwhelming margin of 38-3 Wednesday to make changes in the law that are much needed, as evidenced by The Post and Courier’s “Till Death Do Us Part” series last year.

Sadly, though, the legislation comes up short by hedging on a key issue. It does not outlaw firearm possession by all who are convicted of domestic violence.

The bill does impose a reasonable 10-year ban, but gives judges the right not to make that call when they deem the violence is not severe.

Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, submitted the amendment that would give judges flexibility on the issue of possessing guns. He said it was a concession to those in the Senate and the House of Representatives who saw the bill as little more than a “gun grab.”

The CDV bill being considered by the House does not ban guns. Representatives might want to consider that a survey of South Carolinians done by Public Policy Polling in Raleigh indicates overwhelming support (76 percent) for a law to keep firearms out of the hands of abusers.

Larry Martin, R-Pickens, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and primary sponsor of the Senate criminal domestic violence legislation, was disappointed that the amendment was necessary. He correctly pointed out that even low-level domestic violence must be taken seriously.

And Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Crime Victims’ Council, lamented the amendment as “a defense attorney’s dream,” warning that victims can be in peril if low-level crimes escalate and a gun is handy.

But still, the Senate bill would be a significant improvement over the present law. It recognizes that some violence is more serious and prescribes stiffer penalties for those offenders.

And in addition to its partial ban of firearms, it disallows those convicted of domestic violence from holding a concealed-weapons permit and mandates that those under a firearms ban would face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000 if they are caught with a gun.

Under the bill, people charged with criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature must attend a batterer intervention program. And courts are allowed to grant no-contact orders to protect victims from being harassed. Violators would face a felony carrying up to five years in prison.

The three dissenting Senate votes were by Upstate Republicans Lee Bright, Tom Corbin and Shane Martin, who say the measure is an abridgment of the Second Amendment.

But as Sara Barber, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said, “This is not about Second Amendment rights. This is about victims’ rights to safety.”

It’s high time victims’ rights are on the front burner for the General Assembly. The Senate has passed a solid bill.

The House should see its wisdom and follow suit by approving the Senate version.