For more than two decades, anyone convicted of domestic abuse, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, has been barred from purchasing or possessing a gun. Or, rather, they’re supposed to be.
On Sunday, 26-year-old Devin Kelley walked into a Sutherland Springs, Texas church and killed 26 people, wounding more than 20 others. Kelley was convicted of domestic abuse in 2012 after violently assaulting his wife and infant stepson, breaking the young boy’s skull in the process. He served 12 months in confinement. As a convicted domestic abuser, he should not have been able to purchase a gun.
And yet, from 2014 through 2017, Kelley purchased four guns, one per year.
Kelley’s case isn’t an anomaly. Many domestic abusers, especially those convicted in military courts like Kelley was, are able to purchase and possess firearms because of a loophole in the way the military reports their charges. On Tuesday, two senators announced they’re going to try to do something about it.
“Glad to be working w/ @JeffFlake on bipartisan bill to close DoD/NICS loopholes to keep guns out of the hands of those that want to do harm,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
Glad to be working w/ @JeffFlake on bipartisan bill to close DoD/NICS loopholes to keep guns out of the hands of those that want to do harm.
— Martin Heinrich (@MartinHeinrich) November 7, 2017
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) quickly echoed the sentiment, tweeting, “Writing a bill w/ @MartinHeinrich to prevent anyone convicted of domestic violence — be it in criminal or military court — from buying a gun.”
Writing a bill w/ @MartinHeinrich to prevent anyone convicted of domestic violence – be it in criminal or military court – from buying a gun
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) November 7, 2017
In Kelley’s case, the Air Force has admitted that his base never put his conviction into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS), but the problem is much more widespread.
Even if the base had put his conviction into the system, it wouldn’t have stopped Kelley from purchasing and possessing guns, because, as Flake’s office told CNN, military courts don’t have a domestic violence charge they add to NCIS. Rather, they label the convictions as assaults, and assault convictions don’t prevent someone from purchasing or possessing a firearm.
The problem runs deep. A report from The Trace earlier this week found that the military is reporting almost no domestic abusers to the database, and the Department of Defense has just a single misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence on file. The report also found that the military hasn’t submitted a single record for members subject to domestic violence restraining orders.
Flake and Heinrich’s proposed legislation makes sense. The law is already on the books, it simply needs proper enforcement. The proposal is the type of common sense gun reform that, clearly, can garner support on both sides of the aisle.
But we’ve been here before. Hardly a month ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill to outlaw bump stocks following the deadly shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead. It found bipartisan support in the House, and Republican Senate leadership said they would support hearings on the bill. Even the NRA offered a soft endorsement of the measure.
Three weeks later, aides were saying the bill was dead and public interest in the issue had almost entirely fallen off.
So while it may be easy to get excited about legislation to close the loophole now, history has made it clear that dozens of dead children is apparently not reason enough for Congress to act, no matter how reasonable the legislation may seem.