Data hard to find if judges ban guns for domestic violence
Nov. 13, 2017
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Few court systems in South Carolina are keeping track on how many judges choose to impose a gun ban on people convicted of South Carolina's least serious domestic violence charge.
Lawmakers, pushed by then-Gov. Nikki Haley who adopted reducing the rate of domestic violence as one of her key priorities, passed a law in 2015 that included automatic gun bans for felony domestic violence cases and allowed judges to decide if a criminal could keep guns in misdemeanor domestic violence cases.
The Post and Courier of Charleston called several courts across the state earlier this month and only one — the city of Charleston — could readily say how many times judges have imposed a gun ban for misdemeanors. Records show weapons banned in 34 of 46 convictions.
The newspaper also asked statewide court administrators for data, but they said they couldn't release any information without a formal order from the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Advocates predicted the lack of data. Sara Barber, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, told The Associated Press in February 2016 "we can't tell how well the law is working if we can't tell how judges are using their discretion."
Barber told The Post and Courier last week she was disappointed that no one has sought to solve that problem. "I would think you would need to know that to see how effective the law is. It's frustrating," she said.
The law imposes a lifetime gun ban for the worst abusers and an automatic three- or 10-year ban in other serious cases. But several police agencies told the newspaper they haven't been asked to visit recently convicted people and see if they got rid of their guns.
Former state Sen. Larry Martin, who pushed the bill and lost a re-election bid in 2016 after 38 years in office, said judges should also require police officers to go to the homes of people who fall under the ban if they can't voluntarily prove they got rid of their weapons.
"It would give me concern that they're taking everyone's word for it," the Republican said.
The 2015 law did more than ban guns. It also increased penalties for repeat domestic violence offenders based on the severity of the attack, the number of prior offenses and other factors, like whether the victim was strangled, is pregnant or was abused with children nearby. It replaces an old system that based punishment mostly on the number of offenses.
Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com