In the wake of Sunday’s deadly shooting at a south Texas church, Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., are introducing legislation that would prevent those convicted of domestic violence in the military from buying a gun.
The shooter in that attack, Devin Patrick Kelley, was convicted of domestic abuse by a military court in 2012. After Sunday’s attack, which killed at least 26 people and injured 20 more, the Air Force said it did not communicate those charges with the FBI, which means they were never entered into the federal database used to screen those purchasing firearms.
Currently, civilians convicted of domestic violence are reported to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), preventing them from buying a gun.
Critics, including Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, went after Flake on Twitter, saying such a law is already on the books and that the law was simply not followed by the Air Force.
“Govt employees, like you, failed to do their job. He did a year for abuse & fracturing his kids skull. Should not have had a gun!” Trump Jr. wrote.
But Heinrich and Flake, who has announced he will not seek re-election in 2018, said only one domestic violence charge has been reported by the military to the NICS since 2007, indicating “a problem deeper than just the law not being followed.” (A ProPublica analysis of Pentagon data this week also suggests the military is not reporting such charges from their courts to the FBI.) The problem is with how domestic violence convictions are being labeled and how they are recorded, the senators said.
The Domestic Violence Loophole Closure Act offers a framework to fix that problem and also creates formal oversight of how military convictions are reported, including an audit by the Office of the Inspector General, the senators said at the news conference Tuesday.
“We need a clear procedure for looking at these convictions and reporting them in a timely and accurate fashion so that they end up in the NICS database, and that is not too much to ask,” Heinrich said.
Republican Sen. John McCain, Flake’s colleague from Arizona, said in a separate statement this week that the Senate Armed Services Committee, which he chairs, would also conduct an investigation into the Air Force’s failure to report Kelley’s conviction to the FBI.