Monday, February 16, 2015

When Family Violence Is More than Violence

On Tuesday, February 17th, the South Carolina Senate will be hearing S 3, Criminal Domestic Violence Offenses and Penalties.  Unlike the House version, H 3433, the Domestic Violence Reform Act, the Senate bill has teeth.  Most important, the Senate bill prohibits any person convicted of an act of domestic violence from owning or obtaining a firearm.

An important question has come up, the same question that comes up when laws are being considered that would incur greater penalties on "hate crimes" than otherwise:  Why do we need to make this distinction at all?  An attack on another person other than for self defense is still an attack; a murder still a murder.  The same suffering is imposed whether the rage was fueled by racial hatred or hatred of women or of homophobic rage.

I agree, completely.  But in the case of family violence, there are conditions that are unique that must be addressed.

A family, in close quarters, is particularly vulnerable to a dysfunctional member of that family.  Moods and habits are absorbed in some way, by each individual in that household.  Most of us see family as a support system, but a volatile family member can make home a frightening place.  And people who experience bouts of rage may be more out of control when others around them are intimidated and afraid.

A women alone against a man in a rage (and yes, the situation does happen in reverse), because it is her home, is often made to feel trapped, afraid of the revenge to be exacted if she fights back.  The law has too often lagged too far behind in protecting a woman in her home when her spouse or partner has been threatening, even attacking.  So that women are often overly compliant, and the abuse becomes habitual, and escalates.

Where there are children in the family, the abuser wields even more power.  The woman not only has to juggle the moods, threats and aggressive behaviors in an attempt to protect herself, but to protect her children.  She may become even more compliant to try to calm down the aggressor, the aggressor becoming even more violent.

Now add a gun to this mix.  A man with a gun and rage and poor impulse control is a terrifying way for a woman and children to live.  And if he has hurt any member of the family once, that gun is an undeniable symbol of the power he has over them all.  Mostly powerful because of its potential to destroy, in an instant.

If a women is courageous enough to get to court, and the abuser is convicted of assault, we know that while the abuser often claims remorse, it is very likely that when things get "back to normal" the violence begins again.  An order of protection may be filed, but that does not quell the rage of the attacker.  Access to a gun means the ability to "get even," in the eyes of the abuser.

Yes, it is true that in our society, guns are going to be accessible to anyone that looks hard enough.  But to a person whose problem is one of impulsive rages, having a gun be out of reach may be what saves a life.

And here in South Carolina, we consistently rank in the top ten states in which women are killed by a spouse or partner and in 2013 we were ranked #1.  It is unquestionably easier to kill with a gun, and far more likely if someone owns a gun or knows he can buy one.  Where the overwhelming majority of murders of women were caused by guns, it makes sense that our lawmakers should do everything in their power to take those guns away.  When someone has been convicted of domestic violence, there is absolutely no excuse for that individual to have legal access to a weapon.

I agree that, all things being equal, any instance of domestic violence, or any attack based on rage against a person because of race, religion, sexual identity, should be treated the same as any other attack.  An assault is a violation regardless of the cause.  A murder destroys not just one life but the life of those who surround her (or him).

But in a state where the Second Amendment is misinterpreted at a fever pitch, and guns are now allowed in bars and restaurants, and there is a bill this year to allow guns at private and public colleges, a strong bill that takes guns out of the hands of those who have used violence against a family member is a very big step to making all of South Carolina safer.

But to do this, we have to be louder than loudmouths like Thomas Corbin, South Carolina state senator who made international news when he professed that, according to HIS bible, women are lesser humans, and yes, specifically, a "lesser cut of meat."  This, people, is one of the senators who will be voting on S 3, and his display of ignorance came in reaction to that bill.

We need to send Corbin an email telling him we support S 3, and he needs to support it.  We need to be sure to email our own senators and tell them to vote Yes on S 3 on Tuesday.  And we can send an email to ALL senators at one time urging them to vote Yes on S 3.

Go to to find Corbin's email address as well as that of your own senator.  Click on the name to send a message (or click on "All senate members" to email all).  Then just fill in the blanks.  Type "S 3" in the subject line, and then make the message as short or long as you need, but be sure to include "vote Yes on S 3."

Here is the message I just sent to Senator Corbin:

 Senator Corbin: 
I believe you are probably unlikely to threaten your spouse or loved one with a gun, and that is why you were able to talk about women so callously that you made international news.  But since there are men who have uncontrollable rage and do strike at women and children, and will be more likely to use a weapon if it is available, I trust that you will vote YES on S3. 
Thank you.
Join me in giving Senator Corbin the opportunity to do the right thing.

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