Pentagon & Congress

Lawmakers move to make domestic violence a crime under UCMJ

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers want domestic violence to be a crime under military law, calling its omission from the Uniform Code of Military Justice a dangerous oversight for both victims and the public.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee included the provision in their mark-up of the annual defense authorization bill last week. The proposal, authored by Nevada Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, was adopted unanimously by the committee and is expected to remain in the legislation as it works through both the full House and Senate.

In a statement, Rosen called the idea a “commonsense measure” that will help close “this dangerous loophole in the UCMJ that allows dangerous individuals convicted of domestic abuse to buy firearms.”

At issue is how military officials currently classify and report domestic violence crimes. Under the military code, such attacks are currently prosecuted as assaults, which carry with them severe penalties including jail time.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. (Susan Walsh/AP)
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But domestic violence convictions in the civilian world also trigger restrictions on future firearms purchases. Military officials are required to report such crimes to civilian authorities to ensure those restrictions are enforced. But because military officials only list them as assaults, that work is inconsistent and incomplete.

The issue drew national attention when former airman Devin Kelley gunned down 26 people at a Texas church last November. Kelly was kicked out of the military after being convicted of assaulting his wife and child, but civilian authorities were not properly notified of the crimes that would have disqualified him from buying firearms.

Rachel Vasquez places flowers in a fence for the victims of a shooting outside of the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in Texas Nov. 12. Congress is moving to specifically add domestic violence to the list of crimes under the Uniform Code of military Justice. (Eric Gay/AP)
Rachel Vasquez places flowers in a fence for the victims of a shooting outside of the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in Texas Nov. 12. Congress is moving to specifically add domestic violence to the list of crimes under the Uniform Code of military Justice. (Eric Gay/AP)

In the months that followed, military officials added more than 4,000 former servicemembers to the list of individuals ineligible for gun purchases because of crimes while serving.

Rosen — who introduced stand-alone legislation on the issue last fall with Republican Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins — said fixing the crime classifications in the UCMJ will simplify the notification process, and hopefully save lives.

The full House is expected to vote on the authorization bill later this month. The Senate Armed Services Committee will take up debate on its draft next week. Both versions must be reconciled before the measure can be sent to the president to be signed into law.

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