The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hear renewed legislation for the first time Wednesday aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of criminal domestic abusers.
Nearly two dozen criminal domestic survivors and advocates will fly in to Washington from all over the country, including South Carolina, to attend the hearing on the bill, aimed at protecting victims of stalking and dating abuse by ensuring that their abusive partners cannot legally buy and possess guns.
Among those attending is Sara Barber, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Barber said she hopes if the bill passes, South Carolinians will realize that criminal domestic violence is a public health issue here.
South Carolina is ranked first in the nation for the rate of women killed by men, according to the Violence Policy Center, and has been ranked in the top 10 states every year for the past 10 years.
Even though federal law prohibits gun possession by domestic abusers, the proposed bill would update the federal gun law to encompass abusive dating partners and prohibit convicted stalkers from buying or possessing guns.
“We need to have a no-tolerance attitude towards these crimes,” Barber said.
According to data released by the Violence Policy Center in September 2013, which accrued data from the previous two years, the rate of women murdered by men in South Carolina was 2.54 per 100,000, which doubles the national average of 1.17 per 100,000.
The center also reported that 61 women were murdered by men in South Carolina in 2011. Of those homicides reported in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 93 percent (52 out of 56) were murdered by someone they knew.
The weapon of choice for male offenders involved in homicides with female victims was guns. The center reported 31 of 54 female victims were shot and killed by guns; 21 of those victims were killed with handguns.
According to a study conducted by Everytown For Gun Safety, those convicted on misdemeanor domestic violence charges in South Carolina are not prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing firearms. Also, those convicted or with restraining orders filed against them are not required to surrender firearms they own.
“I would like everybody to realize the depth of the problem here and no longer be bystanders and hold people accountable,” Barber said.
Barber, who previously worked with a domestic-abuse center for 14 years, said it is difficult to stereotype the victims or the offenders of a domestic-violence situation.
“What you learn when you do this work is that there is an incredibly diverse population involved economically, racially and class-wise,” Barber said. “We try to put people in compartments and the longer you do this work, you realize that doesn’t work.”
“It may be your pastor, your banker or your brother, and I think we just don’t want to recognize that,” Barber said.