U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly is sponsoring a bipartisan bill to keep military service members with felony-level domestic violence convictions from purchasing firearms.
The bill, known as the Safe Homefront Act, aims to strengthen Department of Defense policies regarding the reporting of domestic violence convictions and military protective orders to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Mass shooter Devin Kelley, a member of the U.S. Air Force, shot and killed 27 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017. He had multiple domestic violence charges that should have disqualified him from purchasing the firearms he used in the massacre, but the U.S. Air Force failed to submit his fingerprints and General Court Martial Conviction to the FBI.
Conolly’s bill, which is co-sponsored by two Republicans -- Rep. Peter King, R-NY, and Rep. Mike Turner R-Ohio -- would solidify into law the reporting of these types of convictions.
“Abuse is abuse, and no perpetrator of domestic violence– be they military or civilian – should be able to easily pass a background check and legally purchase a gun,” Connolly, D-11th, said in a press release. “The Safe Homefront Act will help protect victims of domestic abuse by reforming how the military handles domestic violence incidents, starting by compelling the Department of Defense to fully comply with existing statutory prohibitions on access to firearms. As we saw all too tragically in Sutherland Springs, the consequences of inaction are devastating to families and our military communities.”
The Department of Defense has not consistently reported servicemembers with domestic violence convictions who are prohibited from purchasing firearms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to a 2019 report from the Department of Defense Inspector General.
According to the report, about four out of five incidents of domestic violence are not properly reported to the FBI, and “military service law enforcement organizations did not consistently comply with DoD policies when responding to nonsexual domestic violence incidents with adult victims.”
The legislation has been endorsed by the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Futures Without Violence, Protect Our Defenders and the Service Women’s Action Network.
Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders, a national organization dedicated to ending the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military, said the Department of Defense had “failed to ensure domestic violence court-martial convictions are properly reported as required by law.”
“…The Pentagon is still failing to notify civilian authorities of convictions that would keep domestic abusers from purchasing firearms. The horrific church shootings committed by Devin Kelley were a direct consequence of the military's dereliction,” Christensen said.