Senator’s revelation bolsters abuse bill

S.C. Sen. Katrina Shealy.

COLUMBIA — The state’s lone female senator delivered an impassioned plea Tuesday for lawmakers to take away batterer’s gun rights, revealing for the first time publicly her sister narrowly escaped being killed by her then husband.

After Katrina Shealy’s emotional retelling of her family’s experience, senators fended off several amendments that would have weakened the proposed ban on anyone convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm.

The bill’s proponents said they hope to wrap up debate and vote on the bill this week.

Shealy, a Lexington Republican, told her fellow senators that the patterns of her sister’s abuse by her high school sweetheart were evident early in their relationship. There were black eyes. Gifts others had given her would turn up destroyed. Her clothes were cut to pieces in front of her.

Her sister stayed with her husband out of fear, but year after year, the abuse escalated. At one point he threatened to kill her and their children. Then, she heard her husband sitting in another room, cocking a gun again and again.

Finally, Shealy’s sister got the courage to leave in 1999, after 30 years of marriage. The next week, her husband came to her office with a loaded rifle. He’d written nine suicide notes, each describing her murder and his suicide.

Sitting in the parking lot, he shot himself to death.

Her sister was lucky, Shealy said. “But for the grace of God, my sister would have been killed that day,” Shealy said. “So when we say domestic violence isn’t personal and that guns don’t have a part in it, they do.

“I support our Second Amendment rights as much as anyone in this room, but I also support the rights of those who need protection from those who threaten their lives. This isn’t a gun grab as some have called it. If you do the right thing and live your life respecting the lives of others, you will never have to worry about your gun rights. Those who abuse the law lose those rights.”

The Legislature’s current effort to strengthen penalties and the appointment of a task force to look at the culture of violence that perpetuates it are credited to the Post and Courier’s series “Till Death Do Us Part” last year.

The newspaper’s series revealed that more than 300 women in South Carolina have been killed by their husbands, exes and live-in boyfriends over the past decade and that guns were used in nearly two-thirds of the deaths.

Guns have been among the major points of contention in the Senate’s debate over strengthening domestic violence laws. The Senate bill, S.3, would take guns out of the hands of convicted abusers for a decade. The provision has pitted advocates who say it’s necessary to save lives and those who say it infringes on Second Amendment rights.

Domestic violence advocates say the gun ban is key to stemming the tide of domestic violence deaths in the Palmetto State. Since August, 22 people have been killed in domestic violence in South Carolina, and 73 percent of those killings have involved a gun, according to a Post and Courier analysis.

Federal law bars anyone convicted of domestic violence from possessing a gun, but other than voluntary compliance, that law isn’t enforced in South Carolina, victims advocates have argued. A state ban, they say, is needed so that local and state law enforcement agencies can ensure offenders give up their weapons.

Shealy said she told the story with her sister’s permission because many in the chamber may assume that domestic violence only involves poorer people.

“It crosses all social classes of people,” she said. Later this week, she plans to offer an amendment that would provide a required method for people convicted of domestic violence to turn over their guns. She said she wants to ensure weapons remain out of a batterer’s home.

Among the amendments rejected Tuesday were ones that: eliminated the word “threats” from the definition of domestic violence; restricted the gun ban to repeat and more serious convictions; and exempted those with protective orders against them from the ban.

An amendment expected to be offered by Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, giving judges discretion on whether to take guns away in low-level domestic violence offenses has not yet been taken up.

Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Travelers Rest, a strident gun-rights advocate who has clashed with Shealy over the proposed gun ban, said abusers don’t need guns to injure or kill a spouse, ex or partner. At one point, Corbin asked another senator if the state should confiscate baseball bats since they can be used in domestic violence.

“If you are out to hurt somebody, you’re going to find a way to hurt them,” Corbin said. “That’s just evil in this world. We need more Jesus in the world to fix that.”

Corbin argued that it’s wrong to be convicted for merely threatening a spouse, which, he said, is possible under the bill’s low-level domestic violence charge.

“There’s actually no crime that I can see that’s actually been committed,” Corbin said.

Corbin deflected a question about the threats Shealy’s sister received, whether it should have been a crime for her husband to sit in another room, cocking a gun over and over. He called it “a horrid, horrid thing to do to a person.”