President Donald Trump’s nominee for a top Pentagon health job said during a nomination hearing Tuesday that he thinks it is “insane” that American civilians can buy high-powered firearms for personal use.
Dean Winslow, who is under consideration for the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs post, made the remarks in response to a question from senators about Defense Department handling of domestic violence cases in light of the Texas church massacre on Sunday.
“As a doctor who cares for men, women and children, I find this (tragedy) terribly sad. It’s horrible,” he said.
“I’d also like to say, and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee, how insane it is that in the United States of America, a civilian can go out and buy a semiautomatic assault rifle like an AR-15. I think that’s an issue, not so much for this committee, but elsewhere.”
The comments drew a quick rebuke from committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who said the issue was outside “your area of responsibility or expertise.”
Winslow was nominated by the White House for the Defense Department post last month. He most recently worked as the vice chairman of medicine at Stanford University and spent 15 years in pharmaceuticals and the biotech industry, helping develop antiretroviral drugs.
He is a retired Air Force colonel who deployed twice to Afghanistan and four times to Iraq as a flight surgeon.
Texas law enforcement officials said that 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley — a former airman who served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico — shot at least 46 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs as part of a domestic dispute.
Kelley was convicted of domestic violence charges during his military service and given a bad conduct discharge when he was booted out of the ranks. But Air Force officials admitted on Monday they did not properly inform the FBI about the conviction, which would have made him ineligible to purchase firearms.
A broader Pentagon investigation into the mistakes is underway. Congressional lawmakers have promised to press service officials on results of those findings.
Winslow said he was not familiar with the reporting problems but promised to look into the issue if confirmed.
Whether his other gun comments will have an impact on his nomination is unclear. His nomination was one of four under consideration by the committee on Tuesday, but none of them was considered controversial by lawmakers.
McCain said he expects the committee to vote on whether to forward the nominees to the full Senate later this week.