South Carolina state senators gave their approval Wednesday to a bill that puts tougher penalties in place against those convicted of domestic violence.
The measure, which passed in a 38-3 vote, includes language that would bar gun ownership for those convicted on any level of domestic violence. However, a group of senators led by State Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, got a last-minute amendment included that would give a judge discretion in ordering a weapons ban for the lowest tier of offenses. That amendment passed by a narrow 22-20 vote.
The legislation will head to the House after another procedural vote expected next week. The House has not yet taken up its own version, which currently does not include the gun ban.
Campsen said he was concerned a person could lose their gun rights for low-level misdemeanor offense where no injury occurred. “A (criminal domestic violence) third degree can be something as minor as throwing the briefcase on the floor when you learn about something your spouse has done,” he said on the Senate floor. “Throwing a plate in their general direction and breaking it. Slamming the door, text messages that are unwanted.”
The bill creates three new tiers for domestic-violence offenses based on the circumstances and severity of the incident. The highest offense of 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 the crime is the first, second, or more offenses.
The sticking point on the Senate floor the past three weeks is a proposed five-year gun ban for those convicted of third-degree domestic violence. Campsen’s amendment would require a judge’s order for that ban to take effect. The judge would also have discretion to include a gun ban in any protective order filed against an individual accused of battering their spouse or partner. The ban in that case would last as long as the order itself up to a year.
State Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, wanted a straight ban without the judge’s discretion, arguing it would weaken the law. “Ask any victim of (criminal domestic violence) what they thought their level of domestic violence was, whether it was serious or not, and how frightened they were when that instant occurred and that 911 call was either made in their house or by a neighbor.” He noted third-degree offenses could include threatening a spouse with a weapon.
The 22-20 vote to include Campsen’s amendment did not fall along party lines, although Republicans were more likely to support it and Democrats to oppose. “Quite frankly, I don’t think if somebody has been convicted of criminal domestic violence they ought to have a gun under any scenario,” State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said. “Because that person has demonstrated that he or she has a propensity for violence.”
The three “no” votes against the bill itself came from more conservative Republicans (Lee Bright, Tom Corbin, and Shane Martin) who said they did not think there should be any gun ban for the lowest-tier offenses. “If you are out to hurt somebody, you’re going to find a way to hurt them,” Corbin said during debate on Tuesday. “I don’t think by banning guns, putting all of these gun restrictions in the bill, is going to help.”