Federal Prosecutors Are Cracking Down on Domestic Abusers With Guns
March 25, 2019 12:22 PM   Subscribe

As U.S. attorneys prosecute more gun crimes, they are catching domestic abusers in their net. A woman is shot to death by a current or former romantic partner every 16 hours, according to FBI and state crime data analyzed by the Associated Press. Domestic violence claims the lives of children, innocent bystanders, and police officers called to help; it sometimes escalates to mass shootings. Abused women are five times more likely to die if their abuser has access to a gun. Erin Nealy Cox a Texan US Attorney is leading the charge to punish abusers who illegally posses firearms, in an attempt to save women's lives.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (18 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good! I feel like domestic violence is what these guys are doing instead of committing acts of what legally would be defined as terror. They need to be disarmed, and off the streets. If there is some way to reprogram them, it needs to happen. An abuser wrecked the lives of basically my entire immediate family. His behavior went unpunished. He did not own a firearm. But many of these people do. The one DV victim I know with a female perp had a gun pulled on him. So yes, men will be helped as well. So will first responders, kids and innocent bystanders. This is great news. Now just don’t expect them to turn those guns in. They won’t.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:38 PM on March 25 [11 favorites]


“Domestic violence cases are just a no-brainer because of the violence associated with them,” said Cox. “If I have limited resources and—let’s just say I’m going after felons with a gun—why wouldn’t you prioritize going after domestic violence felons if you know that they’re high-risk offenders?”

Makes sense. Also seems like they'd be pretty much slam-dunk convictions too; I mean, you have a prior domestic violence conviction (hard to deny that) and you have possession of a firearm (also hard to deny), well, there you go.

We should get more like her.

Erin Nealy Cox, a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas

Something something broken clocks, I guess?
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:45 PM on March 25 [9 favorites]


Or something something blind pigs finding acorns! Good eye Kadin2048
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:55 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I'm in favor of disarming all police, but sure I guess disarming the 40% of them who are domestic abusers is a good start!
posted by Krawczak at 1:47 PM on March 25 [38 favorites]


A fair number of mass shooters turned out to have history with relationship, workplace, or school violence.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:15 PM on March 25 [6 favorites]


It's worth noting that according to her Wikipedia page, at least, Cox spent some time clerking under Barefoot Sanders, who is best known for handling the Dallas desegregation case in the 1970s in that Northern District of Texas.

Her nomination isn't a particularly high-profile one, and she'd come out of some time spent in cybersecurity and business, anyway; I can see how her nomination happened easily enough. The important thing is the tack she's taking with her position now that she has it, and I am completely delighted and overjoyed to see her focusing with a gimlet eye on domestic abusers specifically. This is... new, as far as law enforcement goes. This is new, and valuable, and I am excited to see where Cox's career goes next from this.
posted by sciatrix at 2:18 PM on March 25 [7 favorites]


A fair number of mass shooters turned out to have history with relationship, workplace, or school violence.

That might be putting the case a little bit weakly. Domestic violence is a massive predictor of future violence to strangers. Maybe that fact is enough to start making people think of victims of domestic violence as worth protecting.
posted by sciatrix at 2:22 PM on March 25 [32 favorites]


I really wanted to read this as if it were the prosecutors using the guns to crack down on domestic abusers. The reality is good, too.
posted by Revvy at 2:26 PM on March 25


I feel like domestic violence is what these guys are doing instead of committing acts of what legally would be defined as terror.

More like until committing those acts.
posted by Etrigan at 4:11 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]


I really wanted to read this as if it were the prosecutors using the guns to crack down on domestic abusers.

No, honestly, it's better if they just prosecute them.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:42 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


I was also curious about what these places cracking down on domestic abusers with guns did with cops, but then I realised that most of them probably don't get prosecuted.
posted by jeather at 6:02 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I know that terrorism is "the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims," but really, domestic violence frequently IS a form of terrorism, aimed at keeping women (usually) subordinate to men (usually) and to maintaining a sociopolitical world where men have the power to hurt people they consider inferior. It's just that we don't frequently consider women's ongoing subordination to men a political aim, when it clearly is, and we don't consider violence against half the population intended to keep them in line with the other half's political goals to be "terrorism" because that's just how it's always been.

But really the moments when a culture accidentally treats a domestic violence situation like a terror situation -- before they know it's "just" a dude shooting his wife/girlfriend and suspect it might be a political act of violence -- are so incredibly telling, because DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS TOTALLY INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM TERRORISM, until you know the victim was dating the perpetrator. And then suddenly it's just not something we take seriously, because women aren't a "political group" and hating women isn't an "ideology." It's just the toxic patriarchal stew we all live in.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:13 PM on March 25 [39 favorites]


I'm always happy to see good cases go federal although I suspect that the bar, even where Cox works, is higher than this article makes it seem. It's hard to explain just how rare federal prosecution is to people whose only view of the CJ system comes via articles looking in from the outside. I mean to begin with, "felon in possession of a firearm" is a misleading term in my state because the felony has to be from a specific list. Felony theft, felony property damage, certain burglaries, etc: none of these prohibit you. Even then a simple felon in possession charge will NEVER attract federal attention.

Now, if your felony convictions are for two armed robberies and a single assault with a deadly weapon (i.e. you shot someone) and you were caught with multiple firearms and the feds believe that they can show your crimes are being committed in furtherance of a gang: that might get their attention.

Not to diminish the attorney's work! I'm glad she's doing it. I just very seriously doubt that the nation's US Attorney's offices will have a significant effect on DV/IPV. It's just too broad and no one has sufficient resources to handle the load, even in my relatively well-heeled city. I mean this article is talking about under 200 prosecutions a year nationwide while cops in my city alone are making several hundred gun arrests annually. I can't even imagine what the numbers are like in Chicago, Las Vegas, LA, etc.

It's also a lot easier to write an article about a couple federal prosecutors. For reasons that are in part given in the article, trying to write about local county attorney's offices is WAY less appealing. No one outside of Natrona county, Wyoming, cares what the prosecutors are doing there. And of course it's really hard to make remarks about nationwide trends based off of the goings-on of the Natrona county attorney's office. Maybe the head of the office there really aggressively prosecutes DV cases, but even if you live there you're unlikely to hear about that fact.
Makes sense. Also seems like they'd be pretty much slam-dunk convictions too; I mean, you have a prior domestic violence conviction (hard to deny that) and you have possession of a firearm (also hard to deny), well, there you go.
There is almost nothing that's a "slam dunk" in criminal court. Here's an example of a call I handled a couple years ago:

A person driving by an intersection saw a man punching a woman in the face and called 911. The 911 caller gave us an intersection and a description of the involved parties. We were nearby and arrived within a couple minutes of the call getting dispatched. The pair were still at the intersection in the call and we were able to hear them yelling from a block away. On being separated the male half told me that the female was his girlfriend and they'd been having an argument. The female half said she had been punched twice in the face with a closed fist and had two reddening spots on her face consistent with that statement. We arrested the male half. We took pictures of the injuries. The male half has a sufficient history of domestic violence convictions for my state to upgrade the misdemeanor domestic assault to a felony. He goes to trial and claims he never hit her, she lives on the street and could have gotten those marks anywhere. The victim actually came to court and testified - a rarity - that he had punched her. The jury bought his story and acquitted.

So the prior DV convictions are hard to get around, but everything related to the gun is a different deal. They can claim it's their friend's or girlfriend's. They can claim it was someone else's car and they didn't know it was there. They can claim an improper search under the 4th amendment. I mean imagine a scenario where a victim calls 911 to report that her boyfriend just punched her. She's in the house and the suspect remains on scene. Both parties are in the living room when the police arrive. The cops do a protective sweep of the first floor on arrival and see a handgun in plain view on a table in the bedroom down the hall.

Whose gun is it? Did the police have a right to go in that room? Can they seize the gun immediately or should they empty the house and hold it while they get a warrant?

Now imagine a traffic stop. The car is occupied 4 times. The driver of the vehicle speaks rapidly and stutters, his hands are shaking, and he holds his eyes wide open without blinking. There have been multiple drivebys within a block of that intersection in the last month. The cops command everyone out of the car and secure them in squads to investigate further. They conduct a protective sweep of the passenger cabin of the vehicle. Doing so they feel two lumps in the headliner of the car and see that the upholstery is loose where it slides under the interior trim. Looking inside the headliner they find two loaded, stolen handguns.

How do you pin either gun on a specific person? Were the cops ok to order the occupants out of the car?* Does the headliner of the car (or steering or central columns or the space behind the glove box etc etc) count as a "locked container"? If it is a locked container, does feeling the distinctive shape of a handgun create a basis to investigate further without a search warrant?

I didn't create those scenarios (both based on some of my real world experiences FWIW) to debate or say what the right answer is, and in any case the "right answer" would require more facts than what I've provided. I'm just illustrating the avenues of attack that defense has. Hell, these days you can pull a gun out of a guy's pants (a gun used in two shootings that year alone) and county will wait for the DNA to come back to file charges a year later.
This is... new, as far as law enforcement goes.
It really, really isn't. My city, county, and state have DV initiatives going back around 4 decades at this point. The Minneapolis study was 1981, VAWA was first enacted in 1994, the Lautenberg amendment which is in part the basis of this article was 1996, etc. Everything moves in cycles. DV will be the focus for awhile, then gang shootings, then sexual assault, then back to DV, around and around. DV has also just never produced the bodycounts that street crime does, the majority of murder victims and suspects are young and adult men. Corpses attract resources.

Somewhat cynically: up and coming US attorneys finding a project to make a name for themselves really isn't new. Maybe in 30 years she'll be the next Kamala Harris getting raked over the coals for her prosecutorial past. Felon in possession is a non-violent crime and in my experience the feds aren't coming after you unless they can put you in for at least a decade and usually more.

I don't know. It was probably a waste of time writing all this. It's just that reading articles like this is always (to me) like looking at a funhouse mirror version of everything and it's hard to explain what the process looks like from another side. Especially because I'd bet you that the investigators she works with see a different view and I guarantee that the defense attorneys in the area see things differently. And then there are commenters that just kind of take things as a given that in my view are wildly out of line with what happens in the real world, resulting in these long-winded rambles. Oh well.

*Pennsylvania v Mimms on wikipedia as a start if you're curious. As always remember that cops get seconds to minutes to handle a given situation as opposed to hours and days to dissect it in the courtroom.
posted by firebrick at 12:07 AM on March 26 [9 favorites]


I don't know. It was probably a waste of time writing all this.

Well, from my perspective, I'm glad you did write it out, and it's definitely interesting to read.

I was going to say, the cynical building-a-political-base view you mentioned stood out to me, too, and I thought about verbalizing that--but I don't think I did. The thing I find better about the political aspect of what she is talking about is that if she's going to be "tough on crime," which is also a form of messaging I typically side-eye, well... she's aiming at domestic violence rather than drug possession, which is the thing I identified as newish. Not that domestic violence isn't often used to justify "tough on crime" approaches--that's been a justification for wars on drugs or drink since Prohibition--but in my lifetime, I have never seen prosecutors aim to make a name for themselves specifically by going after domestic violence.

But my lifetime is short: I was born in 1990, and the "war on drugs" has been the background I grew up in. The dates you're mentioning for the cycle are twenty years ago! And DV produces corpses that are mostly women, and secondarily children, not young and adult men: not, that is, the kinds of corpses that are easy to shock people with political power into thinking "that could be me!", especially when there's this false idea that they can control whether or not they wind up in an abusive relationship. People talk themselves into thinking the victims have more control over this than they really do.

Maybe it's just time for the next step in this cycle, and maybe we'll make a little bit of headway that doesn't get entirely eroded by the time we come back to it. Or maybe not.

Anyway, this is not my field, and you clearly have more experience with it than me, and a lot more historical knowledge of the cycles. I am glad you took the time to share your perspective here, because it makes my world that little bit wider, and that's one of the things that I really value about this community.
posted by sciatrix at 9:45 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


everything related to the gun is a different deal. They can claim it's their friend's or girlfriend's. They can claim it was someone else's car and they didn't know it was there.

That seems totally reasonable to me, and I'm OK with both your described scenarios failing to convict?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:02 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


agents, from my comment, with emphasis added:
I didn't create those scenarios (both based on some of my real world experiences FWIW) to debate or say what the right answer is, and in any case the "right answer" would require more facts than what I've provided.
Remember that this is in the context of an OP article about taking firearm prosecution cases to a federal level rather than state when a history of domestic violence is involved. It would behoove you to read and think carefully about these kinds of issues.
posted by firebrick at 9:17 PM on March 27


Oh, definitely, you may have withheld something like "and he was holding three other guns!!!!!". I was assuming you had shared those stories because you thought that as written they demonstrated your warning about the complexity of the charges, and I was letting you know that they didn't seem to do so.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:08 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


They weren't stories, just fictional scenarios based off of fragments of real events to give a very basic sense for why possession is far from straightforward in criminal court. Specifically I was explaining why very little is a "slam dunk". If someone wanted to get further into those kinds of questions they could read about Penn v Mimms, Terry v Ohio, Minnesota v Dickerson, etc. Just in general the 4th amendment is possibly the most litigated section of the constitution.
posted by firebrick at 10:56 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


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