Tougher law on CDV can save S.C. lives

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/File)

My younger sister, Ebony Spann Parson, was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend on Sept. 14, 2013, at a bingo parlor in Conway when she was only 28 years old.

Just 10 days before Ebony's murder, her estranged boyfriend was arrested and charged with aggravated domestic violence for severely beating her.

But after he was released on bond, he took a gun to the bingo parlor my sister loved to visit and killed her before he killed himself.

He said if he couldn't have her, we couldn't have her, either.

This horrible crime did not come out of nowhere. The warning signs were there.

Before he was charged with aggravated domestic violence, Ebony's killer had an existing criminal record and was previously convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence — part of a pattern of escalating abuse that I've since learned is all too common, especially in South Carolina.

But under current state law, his prior domestic violence conviction did not bar him from possessing firearms.

So when the police arrested him again in the days before my sister's murder, they were missing a crucial tool that could have helped to keep guns out of the hands of Ebony's killer.

Ebony's story is just one of an untold number of heartbreakingly similar stories that may have had a different ending had convicted abusers not had easy access to guns.

Our state demonstrates the deadly connection between firearms and domestic abuse more than most other states.

Between 2007 and 2011, women in South Carolina were twice as likely to be shot and killed by their intimate partners as the average American woman.

Even more alarmingly, that rate is rising. And Horry County — where my sister lived and died far too early — has the disgraceful distinction of leading South Carolina in the total number of domestic violence homicides.

There are many contributing factors to our state's well-documented and shocking rate of domestic violence homicides, and there's no single solution that will completely stop this lethal pattern of abuse.

But our legislators now have the opportunity to take action and save lives across the state by passing a strong domestic violence bill that will help keep guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers, like my sister's murderer.

For the first time, South Carolina has experienced unprecedented support to pass a life-saving domestic violence bill among our legislators and from voters across the state. Now both chambers of the South Carolina General Assembly have passed their versions of the domestic violence bill, and it's up to leadership to reach a compromise.

Our elected leaders must act quickly to finally close this deadly gap by agreeing on a bill that would ensure that convicted domestic abusers, and abusers under active restraining orders, are prohibited from possessing guns.

And we're running out of time: The legislative session will soon close for the year.

Now is the time. We cannot keep waiting until the violence has turned deadly like it did for Ebony.

Together we can honor her life by doing everything possible to prevent the next tragedy. I urge our legislators to live up to their promises and take meaningful action to reduce domestic violence in our state by sending the strongest domestic violence bill possible to Gov. Nikki Haley's desk.

Countless mothers, daughters and sisters throughout South Carolina are still in need, and we finally have a real chance to save them.

Gwendolyn L. Reed, since the murder of her sister, has worked to raise awareness about domestic violence. She currently lives in Myrtle Beach.