Opinion Extra

Setser: SC lawmakers must pass a strong, criminal domestic violence bill that protects lives

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On Wednesday, more than 400 members of United Methodist Women and South Carolina American Association of University Women met in Columbia to discuss “Are we our sister’s keepers?” The main thrust of the meeting was preventing domestic abuse.

One of our core social principles teaches us that a just society demands that women “live free from violence and abuse”. Until now, South Carolina has fallen far short of that vision. We have neglected to protect domestic violence victims and women across the state.

Last year’s series from the Post and Courier, “Til Death Do Us Part,” laid bare the lack of services and, more importantly, the lack of political will to do more to prevent domestic violence and protect those who are currently living in fear and terror. Thankfully, South Carolina’s lawmakers are taking heed.

Last month, the Senate passed a bill that strengthens penalties for those who commit crimes of domestic violence. Despite the objection of a small number of Senators, the bill also includes a prohibition on gun ownership by those who commit a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence in the second degree or higher. This is common sense.

Women in South Carolina were twice as likely to be shot and killed by their intimate partners as the average American woman between 2007 and 2011. Even more startling, that rate is rising.

Unfortunately, that language was watered down at the last minute. As a result, abusers who are subject to an order of protection are not subject to this prohibition. This does not make sense. Research has shown that the presence of a firearm in situations of domestic violence leads to a five-fold increase in the risk that a woman is killed by a gun by an intimate partner.

Debate has now begun in the House on a second domestic violence bill. We are calling on our legislators to save as many lives as possible and make this bill as strong as possible. This means it should prohibit all convicted domestic abusers, and abusers subject to orders of protection, from buying and possessing firearms. It should also include a clear process whereby those who are prohibited from owning firearms transfer them to law enforcement, licensed firearms dealers, or to a qualified friend or family member. Without this process of transfer, domestic abusers can too easily maintain access to the guns they already own even though they’re legally prohibited from possessing them.

The South Carolina electorate widely supports legislation that includes such measures. A recent survey from Public Policy Polling found 76 percent of voters support a law preventing domestic abusers from buying guns, and 64 percent support a law requiring domestic abusers to turn in any guns they already own.

There are many societal factors that contribute to domestic violence, including a history of abuse and lack of societal pressure to change, and we must work to find solutions to each of these problems. That’s why the House’s version of the bill should also include funding for prevention and education programs. But there is still no denying the deadly connection between firearms and domestic violence.

We urge our leaders in the House to stand up for the rights of women and domestic violence survivors — their lives are hanging in the balance. Lawmakers must act swiftly to pass a strong, criminal domestic violence bill that will honor and protect domestic violence victims’ lives.

Ms. Setser is public policy chair for the American Association of University Women, South Carolina. Email her at RHSetser@aol.com.

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