UCMJ domestic violence overhaul aims to prevent another mass shooting

Matt Saintsing
May 17, 2018 - 5:18 pm



Congress is pressing the Pentagon for a more expansive definition of domestic violence as a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and the proposed measure could impact whether disgraced veterans could purchase a firearm. 

The House Armed Services Committee unanimously advanced an initiative May 9, proposed by Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), to include the Military Domestic Violence Reporting Enhancement Act in an annual defense spending bill.

The measure would modify Article 128 of the UCMJ to include specific types of domestic violence including actions that “intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or wound another person of whom the person is an intimate partner.”

It would also forbid the sale or possession of firearms by any service member convicted of domestic violence, under this new definition.  

The provision comes after Devin Kelley, the former airman convicted by court-martial of assaulting his wife and child who also killed 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on November 5, 2017. It was the worst mass shooting in a house of worship in American history.  

Domestic violence charges are automatically reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) for civilians who are then flagged when they try to purchase a firearm. But the same isn’t so for service members. That’s because under current military law, domestic violence acts are prosecuted under the specific types of offenses, so they’re free to buy a gun.

For example, service members who commit assault, would be prosecuted under Article 128. Kelley clearly engaged in domestic violence when he beat his wife and child, but he wasn’t reported to NICS, despite being convicted through the Air Force.

He ended up buying a firearm and murdered dozens in a Texas church.

“We are one step closer to getting rid of this dangerous loophole in the UCMJ that allows dangerous individuals convicted of domestic abuse to buy firearms,” Rep. Rosen said in a statement, adding she will “work to ensure this commonsense measure continues to move forward and gets signed into law.”

And, should it become law, the measure could have impacts on how the military punished domestic violence cases.

“When we had domestic violence cases, we would prosecute them as assault, assault battery or aggravated assault—depending on what happened—under the UCMJ,” Rich Rosen, former commandant of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s School, and current law professor at Texas Tech School of Law told Connecting Vets.

“If it passes, I’ll be interested to see how the manual for courts martial finds these offenses—it’s a fairly broad stature, certainly broader than today.”

He has no relation to Rep. Rosen.