Top Trump Pentagon nominee: It's 'insane' that civilians can buy semiautomatic assault rifles

Winslow is the nominee for assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

November 7, 2017, 5:50 PM

— -- A Trump administration nominee for a top Pentagon job told Congress on Tuesday that it's "insane" civilians can buy semiautomatic assault rifles — like the type used in Sunday's deadly church shooting in Texas.

"I'd also like to — and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee — just say 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, which is apparently the weapon that was used," said Dr. Dean Winslow, the nominee for assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., quickly interjected, telling Winslow he didn't think the subject was in his "area of responsibility or expertise."

Winslow was responding to questioning from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who asked if the suspect, 26-year-old Devin Kelley, who served four years in the Air Force, should have received a dishonorable discharge instead of the less severe bad conduct discharge.

Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 and pleaded guilty to assaulting his then-wife with his hands and choking her, as well as striking and hitting his stepson "with a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm," according to the Air Force.

He was sentenced to 12 months of confinement.

Winslow, a retired Air Force colonel who served six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, later said the type of discharge would lie more with the legal branch of the military than the health system that he is nominated to lead.

Speaking to CNBC's "Squawk Box," Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said the service will figure out why Kelley's conviction was not passed along to the FBI's National Crime Information Center as required by law — which would have prevented Kelley from purchasing a firearm.

"We've taken responsibility, and we're going to find out what happened and fix it," Wilson said Tuesday.

She added that the Air Force doesn't know if Kelley is the only case in which a court-martial conviction was not reported to the FBI but said the branch is "checking all" its databases to find out what happened.

On Monday the Air Force launched a review of how the service handled Kelley's criminal records after his 2012 domestic-violence-related convictions. The service requested that the Department of Defense Inspector General review records and procedures across all the military's branches.

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