LAS VEGAS — As convicted felons with criminal histories including violence against former domestic partners, neither Keith Junior Barlow nor Robert Brown Jr. should have had a gun.
But both did, according to criminal charges against them, and both are accused of shooting ex-girlfriends to death in Las Vegas in attacks that law enforcers and gun safety advocates say illustrate a terrifying pattern of repeat domestic violence.
“A history of abuse is highly suggestive of future abuse,” said Ted Alcorn, research chief for the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. He pointed to FBI data that found that more than half of women slain with guns in the U.S. in 2011 were killed by intimate partners or family members.
Other FBI data analyzed by The Associated Press shows that in Nevada, 94 people were shot to death by a spouse, ex-spouse or dating partner from 2006 to 2014, including 71 in the Las Vegas area.
Brown’s case dates to December 2012. He’s accused of fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend, Nichole Nick, and wounding Nick’s mother. Police also reported finding a bullet hole in the bed of Nick’s 3-year-old niece, who wasn’t wounded. Brown was arrested a little more than a year later in Los Angeles.
Barlow allegedly confronted his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend in February 2013 in an alley behind a convenience store and warned that he’d be back. Two hours later, he kicked in an apartment door and shot Danielle Woods and Donnie Cobb to death with a .40-caliber handgun he got from a friend, according to the criminal charges against him. The gun owner later reported the weapon had been stolen.
Repeat violence involving domestic partners is an issue that state lawmakers tried to address last year, passing a law banning anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in Nevada or any other state from possessing a gun.
The law went into effect with Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s signature in June. It also prohibits people from buying a gun if they’ve been ordered by a court to stay away from their estranged partner.
The new law made Nevada one of 13 states to tighten restrictions in the last two years to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, according to the AP survey. Such laws are a rare area of consensus in the nation’s highly polarized debate over guns.
In Carson City, Democrats lost a bid to go further. The GOP-controlled Legislature rejected a stricter measure that would have required people to turn over guns they already have if a restraining order is filed against them.
Nevada’s domestic violence gun ban was part of a wider law hailed by the National Rifle Association as a victory for law-abiding gun owners. It also eliminated a registration requirement for gun owners in Clark County, home to Las Vegas and some 2 million of the state’s 2.5 million residents. The law extended from homes to vehicles the reach of the so-called “castle doctrine” or stand-your-ground right to use lethal force for self-defense.
No permit is required to obtain most firearms in Nevada, and guns can generally be openly carried, although buying high-powered weapons may require a federal permit.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, the top prosecutor in Las Vegas, said enforcing the domestic violence gun ban hasn’t been easy. But he said people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence are being informed in court — in writing and by a judge — that they can’t possess a gun.
Both Brown and Barlow have pleaded not guilty in their cases. Brown’s defense attorney didn’t respond to messages. Barlow’s lawyers declined to comment.
Prosecutor Richard Scow, who is handling both cases, said Barlow had prior convictions in Nevada in 1987 for shooting at a former girlfriend and her new boyfriend and in 1997 for shooting at Woods.
Brown was convicted in Los Angeles and sentenced to prison in 1998 for felony carjacking and corporal injury to a spouse in a case arising from allegations that he stabbed and slashed his then-wife. Attempted murder, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon charges were dropped.
With his felony convictions, Brown wouldn’t have been able to purchase a gun under the new law or the old law, Scow said.