Office of Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA)
July 11, 2019
Washington, DC – Last night, the House of Representatives adopted a bipartisan amendment offered by Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Congressman Peter King (R-NY) that would ensure the FBI has the information it needs to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers. Specifically, the amendment would codify and strengthen the Department of Defense’s (DOD) policies regarding the reporting of domestic violence to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
According to the Department of Defense Inspector General, DOD has failed consistently to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) servicemembers with domestic violence convictions who are prohibited from purchasing firearms under current law. In fact, 4 out of 5 incidents of domestic violence are not properly reported to the FBI and NICS. Additionally, under current law, Military Protective Orders (MPOs) issued by unit commanders in response to domestic violence incidents do not prohibit individuals from purchasing firearms. However, comparable civilian protective orders issued by judges do prohibit such purchases. The amendment would help DOD develop a plan to address this disparity.
One of the domestic abusers who DOD failed to report was Devin Kelley, who shot and killed 27 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November of 2017. Had DOD submitted his fingerprints and General Court Martial Conviction to the FBI, he would have been prohibited from purchasing the very firearms he used in the massacre.
The amendment was endorsed by The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Futures Without Violence, Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, Service Women’s Action Network, and Protect Our Defenders.
Connolly’s full Floor remarks follow, and video can be found here.
This amendment is simple, bipartisan, and has the support of leading domestic violence prevention advocates and veterans service organizations.
First, I want to thank my friend and colleague from New York, Peter King, for cosponsoring this amendment with me. Peter is a veteran and a respected voice on national security issues in the House, and his support is appreciated immensely.
Our amendment does two things. First, it would codify existing Department of Defense policy which requires DOD to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) servicemembers who are prohibited from purchasing firearms pursuant to current law. Again, this provision of the amendment merely codifies existing DOD policy as outlined in DOD Instruction 5505.11 and places no new legal restrictions on access to firearms.
This provision is responsive to the DOD Inspector General Report, “Evaluation of Military Services’ Law Enforcement Responses to Domestic Violence Incidents.” In that report, the DODIG found that DOD has failed consistently to report domestic violence convictions within the DOD that would have disqualified a servicemember from purchasing a firearm.
One of the domestic abusers the DOD failed to report to the FBI was Devin Kelley, who entered a house of worship in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November 2017, and killed 27 people with guns he should have been prohibited from purchasing under current law.
According to the IG, of the 219 domestic violence cases examined at eight military installations, 201 were found not to comply with at least one of the Defense Department’s policies for reporting domestic violence – in other words, more than 90 percent of cases were not properly reported. And 4 in 5 incidents, 86 percent, were not properly reported to the FBI and NICS. That is a problem, because we know NICS works. According to the FBI from November 30, 1998—December 31, 2018 – 206,080 gun purchases were denied based on convictions of domestic violence or protective orders based on domestic violence.
Codifying this reporting requirement gives it more teeth and will help Congress in its oversight of these important public safety measures that protects all of our military and their families.
The second part of this amendment would task DOD with studying the feasibility of creating a database of military protective orders issued in response to domestic violence and reporting such MPOs to NICS or establishing a process by which military judges could issue protective orders in response to domestic violence. This provision is responsive to the DOD Inspector General Report, “Report of Investigation into the United States Air Force’s Failure to Submit Devin Kelley’s Criminal History Information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Under current law, a military protective order (MPO) issued in response to a domestic violence incident does not prohibit an individual from purchasing a firearm. However, a comparable civilian protective order would.
The DODIG recommended that the Secretary of Defense “consider pursuing legislation amending the Gun Control Act, Section 922(g)(8) to specifically include…military protective orders.” And the Senate-passed National Defense Authorization Act for FY2019 included a provision which would have mandated that DOD create a mechanism by which military judges could issue protective orders that would trigger prohibitions on firearm purchases – in a Republican Senate.
We are sensitive to the concerns about due process and mandates regarding this matter. That is why we have adopted a middle ground that requires DOD to study the feasibility of complying with the DODIG recommendation on MPOs and the Gun Control Act as well as to study the feasibility of establishing a system that the Senate FY2019 NDAA would have established.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 30 percent of female veterans report having been a victim of domestic violence within their adult life, and 22 percent say the abuse occurred while on Active Duty. According to the DOD, in more than 30 percent of domestic violence cases (1,100 out of +3,000) where the victim is a member of the military, their spouse is also a member of the military. This amendment is not just about protecting civilians but about protecting those in uniform especially.
In closing, I want to thank all of the organizations that support this bipartisan amendment, including The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Futures Without Violence, Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, Service Women’s Action Network, and Protect Our Defenders.