Our Views: Support tougher abuse laws

In a state where leaders constantly pay lip service to the primacy of family values, the governor and the Legislature should remember that society’s first obligation to families is advancing their safety.

That’s why we’re heartened by the efforts of two Democratic New Orleans lawmakers, state Rep. Helena Moreno and state Sen. J.P. Morrell, to help prevent and reduce violence in households across Louisiana.

Moreno and Morrell are sponsoring a package of bills this session that toughens civil and criminal penalties for domestic abusers.

Legislation supported by Moreno and Morrell would raise the level of civil damages an abuser might face and eliminate the 180-day waiting period for divorce if a court determines a spouse or child in the family has been abused. The lawmakers also are seeking tougher criminal penalties for domestic abuse battery and speedier communication for temporary restraining orders issued against possible abusers. Related legislation would place a 10-year ban on firearm possession for those subject to a protective order or those who’ve been convicted of domestic abuse battery.

We respect gun rights, but people who physically threaten their spouses and children shouldn’t be given the tools to do so.

The most controversial piece of this legislative package — requiring that police seize firearms at the scene of a domestic violence crime — already has been withdrawn after Moreno cited opposition from the National Rifle Association.

We hope that such ideological skirmishes don’t further cripple the underlying goals of Moreno and Morrell’s legislation.

Eighty percent of women murdered in Louisiana are killed by a husband, partner or ex-partner, and 74 percent of the state’s domestic violence homicides are gun-related, according to the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That sad reality should underscore the urgency of quick action by lawmakers and the governors to address the problem.

Tougher laws against abusers are only part of the solution. Families need better access to shelters and counseling so victims will have more options in escaping abusive situations.

The legislative package offered by Moreno and Morrell is a good place to begin.