Last week, my colleagues took an important first step in standing up for public safety and protecting women and families when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S.3 by a vote of 19-2. This life-saving bill would protect South Carolinians by prohibiting convicted domestic abusers from possessing firearms. It would also prohibit abusers subject to protective orders from possessing firearms for the duration of the order — usually six months to a year. This bill is now headed to the full Senate for a vote.
Finally, we are poised to take meaningful action to make our state safer and save women’s lives.
South Carolina has demonstrated the deadly connection between domestic violence and guns ore than almost any other state. Between 2007 and 2011, women in South Carolina were twice as likely to be shot to death by their intimate partners as the average American woman. And the rate is rising.
Domestic violence shootings affect every community in our state. In April in Spartanburg County, a woman named Mariann O’Shields was shot and killed by her abusive, estranged husband outside of the domestic violence shelter where she had sought refuge. Mariann had followed all the recommended protocols to protect her and her young daughter from her abuser. She filed a restraining order against him, moved into a crisis shelter with her daughter and reported him to the sheriff’s office when he violated the restraining order. The next day, Mariann’s estranged husband drove to the shelter and shot and killed her. There are countless S.C. women and children whose lives have been cut short by domestic violence, and Mariann O’Shields’ story is just one of an untold number of these tragedies that might have had a different ending had her abuser not had access to his gun.
We have a responsibility to save as many lives as we can, and that’s why more work needs to be done. It’s incumbent upon my fellow legislators to strengthen S.3 to require that when domestic abusers are prohibited from possessing firearms — that is, when they are convicted or subject to a protective order after a judicial hearing — they actually transfer the guns they already own to law enforcement, a firearms dealer or another qualified third party. This change is essential to keep women safe from their abusers.
Without it, an abuser can too easily walk out of court after his hearing and return home to his guns, even though he is legally prohibited from having them. And that omission could have a deadly cost: The presence of a gun in a domestic violence incident makes it five times more likely that the victim will be killed. Adding a process-of-transfer amendment to S.3 could mean the difference between life and death for the many women in our state who find themselves in the same situation as Mariann O’Shields.
I support the Second Amendment, and I’m a proud gun owner. I believe that most gun owners are responsible, decent people who know that with this constitutional right comes great responsibility. But I also know that respect for the Second Amendment is consistent with common-sense safety measures like keeping guns out of dangerous hands. We know these laws work — and they’ll work for South Carolina, too. In states that prohibit individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders from accessing guns, there are 25 percent fewer gun deaths by intimate partners.
Support for S.3 marks a significant turning point in South Carolina’s history, and it proves that as a state we’re ready to come together to improve our appalling record of keeping women and children safe. Now it’s time for South Carolina to follow the lead of the six states that enacted life-saving laws in 2014 — Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin — and pass our own law to protect the lives of our women and children all across the state.