Pentagon & Congress

In wake of Texas massacre, DoD nominees vow to correct crime documentation

In the aftermath of the Nov. 5 Texas church shooting that killed 26 people, U.S. senators are pressing nominees for key Pentagon positions for assurances that the services are reporting crimes to the appropriate national crime databases.

The massacre in Texas has been “made more devastating by the fact that despite years of federal laws being on the books to ensure notification is made to national crime databases, in this case it wasn’t done,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., during Tuesday’s nomination hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“These crimes in the military were incredibly serious and violent, yet it appears that someone didn’t think it was worth his or her time to fill out the forms so crucial to keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.

“Furthermore, it sounds like this has been a problem for at least 20 years,” she said.

The military’s reporting of crime has been a focal point ever since Devin Kelley, a former airman who was court-martialed and convicted in 2012 for beating his wife and stepson, opened fire in the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church.

The Air Force failed to report the conviction to the FBI, which would have prohibited Kelley from buying firearms.

“It’s a tragedy upon a tragedy. First was the tragedy of the shooting. Then to discover it might have been preventable,” James E. McPherson, the Trump administration’s nominee for Army general counsel, told senators.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Congress passed a law requiring DoD to report crimes to national databases.

“It’s speculation, but had somebody done their job, perhaps that individual wouldn’t have had those weapons. That saddens me a great deal, especially when it was the Defense Department that created that negligence,” he said.

He said one of the first things he’ll look into, if confirmed, is “whether we can fix the system and make it easier to report.

“But we also need to go back and capture all those in the last 20 years that weren’t reported, because those people are out there and they’re a danger,” he said.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., questioned what DoD will do to make sure agencies not only report the information, but explore records to see if more individuals have not been reported to the national database as well.

Anthony Kurta, the Trump administration’s nominee to be principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told lawmakers Secretary of Defense James Mattis has tasked the DoD inspector general to review whether the services’ criminal investigative agencies are complying with the law. Additionally, he said, “they are going back and seeing where we may have failed over the past number of years,” Kurta said.

Asked if there is a timeline for the endeavor, Kurta said he knows Mattis expects that DoD comply immediately, because it’s the law. If confirmed, he said, “I will work to ensure we get into compliance as soon as possible.”

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