Sponsor tells senators gun ban crucial to stemming domestic-violence

South Carolina Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens

COLUMBIA — The primary sponsor behind the push to overhaul South Carolina’s domestic violence laws urged his fellow senators Tuesday not to let the effort be derailed by objections to barring batterers from possessing firearms.

The remarks by Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, opened what is expected to be a weeks-long debate over how tougher penalties for domestic violence in a state that has consistently ranked among the deadliest in the country for women.

The move to strengthen penalties and better protect abuse victims was spurred by the Post and Courier series “Till Death Do Us Part,” which revealed that more than 300 women had been killed by husbands or boyfriends in the past decade.

The Judiciary Committee chairman told the Senate that the best way stem the epidemic of domestic violence is to take guns out of batterers’ hands. Federal law bans anyone convicted of domestic violence from buying or possessing guns, but South Carolina doesn’t have its own legislation to enforce the ban or ensure that abusers comply.

“All of a sudden folks who abuse their spouses, beat their wives have constitutional rights that trump everything,” Martin said on the Senate floor. “You don’t get to carry a weapon into jail when that police officer puts the cuffs on you. When you come back home you ought not to have a weapon with you then.”

Sen. Shane Massey, an Edgefield Republican, said the legislation’s real challenge is in the House. The bill in the House does not include the gun ban, although several members of an ad-hoc committee set up to examine the issue wanted it included.

“This is a very specific provision for people who have already been demonstrated to be violent in their homes,” said Sara Barber, executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Barber’s group, meanwhile, asked senators last week to strengthen the gun provision by requiring affidavits showing batterers have given up their weapons. Doing so would make sure that “they actually transfer the guns they already own,” the letter said.

Martin said he won’t include that provision because it would kill the bill.

There have been 22 domestic killings statewide since the Post and Courier series was published last August. Of those, 60 percent of victims have been women and 73 percent involved a gun.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.