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[AP/Patrick Semansky]

Domestic Violence

New DOJ Effort Targets Domestic Abusers

Following The Trace’s reporting, Attorney General William Barr created a working group of U.S. Attorneys to share best practices for charging abusers who keep their guns.

Attorney General William Barr has announced the formation of a working group to bolster efforts by U.S. attorneys to crack down on domestic abusers who have guns.

“Keeping guns from domestic abusers legally prohibited from possessing them would significantly reduce violence in America, a major priority of the Justice Department,” said a press release from the Department of Justice.

The news follows The Trace’s March investigation, co-published with Slate, documenting an uptick in federal prosecutions of illegal gun possession by those convicted of domestic abuse.

The working group will comprise nine U.S. attorneys from across the country, including officials from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, and California. Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, will chair the group. Cox featured prominently in The Trace/Slate article because her office has one of the most aggressive records for charging these crimes.

In a phone interview, Cox said that the Domestic Violence Working Group will share best practices for prosecuting domestic abusers, and provide guidance on how to work with local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits.

Domestic violence laws vary considerably, and state laws do not always align with the federal statutes. This can make it hard for federal prosecutors to bring charges.

Cox said that several U.S. attorneys had discussed forming a working group several months ago, but the idea fizzled out. After The Trace’s article published, Cox’s office received phone calls from other U.S. attorneys interested in reviving the idea.

The number of federal weapons prosecutions this fiscal year is projected to be up 11.2 percent compared to one year ago. according to an analysis from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse database.

U.S. attorneys in several districts have zeroed in on convictions related to domestic violence and guns. According to data provided by the Department of Justice, there has been an 80 percent increase over the last two years in the number of people charged under the federal law banning those convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor from possessing firearms. In fiscal year 2018, 197 defendants were prosecuted, up from 110 in fiscal year 2016.

“We’ve had the statutes on the books for a while,” said Cox, adding she believes that a new federal focus on domestic violence will help prosecutors reduce homicides in their communities. “Any time the AG directs us to do something, you can be sure we’re going to be doing it.”