- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A House panel opened debate Thursday on a bill intended to curb domestic violence in South Carolina, a week after the Senate passed its version.

Activists told the Judiciary subcommittee the House’s bill needs to at least match the Senate’s provisions that ban more convicted abusers from possessing a gun for a decade. The bill also bars firearm possession by those subject to protective orders.

“Those provisions, I believe, are absolutely necessary if we truly want to protect victims of domestic violence and save lives,” said Greenville retiree Craig Stine. “I can’t think of too many crimes worse than beating your wife or girlfriend. It is long past due for South Carolina to follow the examples of other states and hold accountable the perpetrators of domestic abuse.”

He noted most domestic violence deaths in South Carolina involve guns. He and other attendees, who wore stickers supporting the Senate’s version, said the goal is to remove abusers’ easy access to guns.

The panel took no action. It will next meet in two weeks.

Rep. Shannon Erickson, who chaired the study panel that crafted the bill, notes it includes a lifetime gun ban for those convicted of the most violent domestic violence crimes. And the bill makes it easier for judges to bar those arrested for domestic violence from possessing guns as a condition of their bond, she said.

Both versions strengthen and tier penalties based on the harshness of abuse, giving prosecutors more options.

Erickson, R-Beaufort, points to the education component of her bill, which has nearly 50 co-sponsors of both parties, as a way of stemming the generational cycle of abuse. It adds domestic violence education to health education classes taken by middle school students.

When the bill reaches the House floor, Erickson said she’s unlikely to offer an amendment to add stronger gun bans.

“I’m of the opinion that some reform is better than no reform,” she said.

South Carolina has long ranked among the nation’s worst in violence against women.

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