South Carolina senators stopped an attempt to remove a proposed gun ban from a domestic violence bill this week. But the legislation still faces days of debate on the floor next week.
Some of the bill’s opponents said they don’t think lower-tier offenders should lose their gun ownership rights. The Senate bill has 10-year ban for a person convicted of a first-degree offense and a ban of up to a year for an individual who has an order of protection filed against them.
But an amendment that would have stripped the ban language out of the bill was soundly rejected Wednesday in a 35-5 vote.
“To retain your rights, you have a responsibility,” State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, said on the Senate floor. “You don’t just get to have them willy-nilly. You’ve got to play by the rules. You’ve got to live under the laws that your neighbors and friends have agreed upon.”
The bill faces a very difficult road in the Senate in its current form, as opponents criticize not only the strict gun provisions but also the tougher attitude towards suspected abusers.
Some senators insisted the effort to toughen domestic violence laws was being hijacked by gun control groups. “We’re all up here trying to do something good for the people of South Carolina to stop people from hurting each other and you’re mixing it up with this,” State Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Greenville, said after his amendment was tabled. “It’s not going to work. This bill as it’s written is a big gun grab.”
He noted that Louisiana, which is the state that Senate Judiciary Committee leaders used as a template for the new law, has seen an increase in domestic violence cases. Corbin argued courts would likely see a larger backlog as domestic violence suspects, fearing the loss of their gun ownership, would be less likely to settle and more likely to fight their charges.
But Hembree argued the gun ban is essential to any tougher crackdown. “For fifteen years in a row, South Carolina has been in the top ten for domestic violence homicides,” he said during the Senate’s debate. “We’ve been number one for three of those years. We’re currently number two.”
On Thursday, senators delayed further debate after many Democrats (and some Republicans) also came out against another section of the bill’s language. Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he had concerns about a section of that requires police to make an arrest while responding to a domestic disturbance if there is “probable cause” that abuse occurred. Hutto said he worried officers will interpret the law to mean they make an arrest every time they are called.
“I want them to arrest everybody they should arrest… but, we train law enforcement to go out and handle these situations,” Hutto said. “They should have the discretion that they have in every other case when they investigate something.”
The bill will also create three new tiers for domestic-violence offenses based on the circumstances and severity of the incident. First-degree domestic violence would carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, second-degree domestic violence would be punishable by up to three years in prison and people convicted of third-degree domestic violence would face a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail. Current law bases the tiers on whether it’s the first, second, or more offenses.
The maximum prison sentence would also double from 10 to 20 years for those convicted of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature.
Senators are expected to continue debating the bill next week.