SC bill imposes harsher penalties, bans guns for domestic abusers

Lawmakers in South Carolina hope that new legislation will help reduce domestic violence in the state by imposing greater penalties on abusers and barring those people from possessing guns. The bill was approved by the House this week 81-23 and now awaits the signature of Gov. Nikki Haley, the Daily Journal reported Thursday.

“It is absolutely a huge win for people who want to wage a war against domestic violence in this state,” Attorney General Alan Wilson told a local ABC affiliate last week.

According to a report from the Violence Policy Center, South Carolina has remained one of the states with the most domestic-related homicides per capita in the country. While the state fell to second place last year from the number one spot the previous year, the type of crime still remains a huge concern, with a domestic-related death occurring approximately once every 12 days in South Carolina, a special report by The Post and Courier noted.

Graphic: Violence Policy Center

Graphic: Violence Policy Center

“Now you come in and create great bodily harm to your spouse, even if you’re a first-time offender, it’s a 10-year felony as opposed to a 30-day misdemeanor,” Wilson explained.

The law also attempts to keep guns out of the hands of abusers through tougher restrictions, a move that is usually questionable. While federal laws are already in place to keep convicted abusers from possessing firearms, by adding additional local legislation, state prosecutors are given more power when it comes to convictions. The bill will permanently ban those convicted of serious domestic violence from carrying a firearm, and those convicted of lesser offenses could face a three to 10 year ban.

But not everyone supported the idea that creating more laws to tighten gun restrictions – or any other restrictions — will do anything to actually reduce domestic violence in the state. In fact, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the vast majority of abusers already break the law, with more than half routinely violating an active order of protection.

“If you are out to hurt somebody, you’re going to find a way to hurt them,” said Sen. Tom Corbin, who voted against the bill. “I don’t think by banning guns, putting all of these gun restrictions in the bill, is going to help.”

The legislation also gives prosecutors as well as responding law enforcement the power to upgrade the charges based on more than just the bodily harm that is inflicted during that particular incident, but the circumstances surrounding the incident as well. For example, authorities can look at factors such as whether the woman is pregnant or if children are present during the assault. The severity of the offense can also be determined based on prior history.

The combined efforts of the legislation, in some ways, may help to break the vicious cycle of domestic violence and subsequently save lives.

“There is no better way to honor those who have lost their lives to this tragic crime than passing meaningful reform that could save others,” Wilson noted.

But studies show that the pattern of domestic violence is extremely predictable, affording the opportunity for life-saving intervention long before the abuse turns deadly. With authorities able to base the offense on surrounding circumstances rather than just bodily harm in that particular incident, it’s likely that victims can more easily be separated from their abusers.

Statistics also indicate that the presence of children in an abusive situation can have lasting effects. In fact, boys who witness domestic abuse are two times as likely to become abusers as adults. Likewise, girls who witness such behavior are more likely to become involved in an abusive relationship as an adult.

The more intervention available before domestic violence turns deadly, the more likely the cycle can permanently be broken.

“When you’re convicted of domestic violence, there has to be serious consequences,”said Sen. Katrina Shealy, who believes the legislation is a move in the right direction.

Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said,“I want the cycle of violence to stop.”

Rutherford believes one way to end domestic violence is through the availability of couseling, and he originally added an amendment to the bill that would have provided “risk assessors” in each of the state’s jails. Those individuals would talk with both the victims and suspects and work with authorities to determine the charges that should be filed as well as what counseling should be sought for those involved. However, the amendment was shot down.

Other provisions which made it into the bill included review of the history with the involved parties before bond is set for the suspect. Children who witness domestic violence are now to be listed as victims, whether they are physically a part of the abuse or not. The bill also added a provision for schools to education about domestic violence in grades six through eight.