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Editorial: Pentagon must comply with gun database rules

The Defense Department must follow federal laws when it comes to reporting criminal convictions to the gun database.

It sounds like a simple enough concept to grasp, but it is not happening on a routine basis. Lives are at risk, and three major cities have filed a lawsuit to force the issue.
At issue is the department’s failure to report many criminal convictions in the military justice system to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its national gun background-check database, as reported in the New York Times and other publications.

By dropping the ball, the Pentagon made it easier for felons and domestic abusers to unlawfully gain access to guns, endangering their partners and others.

The simple task: transmitting to the FBI the names of service members convicted of crimes that disqualify them from gun ownership.

It is fair to use as a real-world example Devin P. Kelley, who was convicted of domestic assault in the Air Force. Had the information about his conviction been transmitted to federal authorities, Kelley would not have been allowed to buy the rifle he used to take the lives of 25 people at a Texas church in November.

Officials from New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco have filed a lawsuit to force the Pentagon to act. According to the Times, they want the Defense Department to “submit to federal court monitoring of its compliance with the reporting laws it has broken time and again.”

Police regularly access the federal background-check database in determining whether applicants should be prevented from purchasing guns. They expect the information to be accurate and complete.

The criticism is coming not only from outside the Defense Department, but from within its own ranks. The Times reported that the Pentagon “has repeatedly been chided since the 1990s by its own inspector general for woefully failing to comply with the law.” The article cited a 2015 report and another issued within the last month that revealed that nearly one in three court-martial convictions that should have disqualified defendants from buying guns were not reported. An unknowing public has had to live with the consequences.

The military must follow the law; report felony-equivalent court-martial convictions punishable by more than one year in prison, as required, along with any convictions for domestic violence. It won’t completely prevent those criminals from obtaining weapons, but at least the Pentagon won’t be adding to the problem.

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