Air Force Failed to Put Sutherland Springs Shooter in FBI Database Preventing Felons From Getting Guns

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

The U.S. Air Force admitted on Monday that it had failed to put information regarding Devin Patrick Kelley, the man authorities say was the perpetrator of a gun massacre at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Sunday which resulted in at least 26 deaths, into a FBI database retailers use to prevent people with a history of domestic violence from purchasing firearms.

Kelley was discharged from the Air Force in 2014 after being convicted of two counts of domestic violence and serving a year in prison, a functional felony conviction which should have earned him a place on the proscribed list. But per the Washington Post, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said “Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database.”

As the Post noted, retailer Academy Sports said on Monday that Kelley passed federal background checks when purchasing two firearms, once in 2016 and once in 2017. While Kelley’s conviction still meant the gun purchases were illegal, had the information been properly added into the database, he might have been prevented from carrying them out. It “remains unclear” if those weapons were used in the massacre, according to the Post.

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The military operates its own parallel system of criminal justice for service members, including judicial and penal branches. In this case, either a human or technical error prevented military records from being transferred to the civilian-operated NCIC as required by law.

According to ProPublica, there’s ample evidence the military is, in general, failing to properly follow reporting procedures; a 2015 Department of Defense report concluded that that Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force had failed to submit criminal histories to the FBI in 334 out of 1,102 instances of service members being convicted of “serious and often violent offenses between 2010 and 2012.”

Retired Air Force colonel Don Christensen, the branch’s former chief prosecutor, told ProPublica the military consistently fails to report information to civilian authorities and “Somebody messed up. All we know for sure is that this guy shouldn’t have had a gun.” The site also reported that the FBI has sometimes “blamed the failure on the technical limitations of military computer systems.”

Per the Houston Chronicle, however, state authorities did deny Kelley a concealed carry permit, though it’s not clear whether that was based on his military conviction.

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[Washington Post]

Update 11/6/2017: This post has been updated to clarify that Kelley’s purchases of the guns were illegal, regardless of whether his criminal history was properly entered into NCIC.

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DISCUSSION

While the Air Force screwed the pooch in their failure to properly report, it wouldn’t have made one iota of difference. As long as person-to-person and gun show loopholes exist, felons and other disqualified individuals can and will purchase firearms. Case in point, my son was home on leave not too long ago and wanted to go to a gun show, while we were browsing a few antique collectables, we overheard a sketchy guy ask the vendor at the next table if he was a FFL (licensed dealer), when the seller answered “yes” the guy pretended to browse, asked a few additional questions and then scurried along to another area of the arena. The purpose of the question was clear to us AND that dealer. An FFL is required to conduct a NICS check, whereas a private seller is not. At this particular event, all that was required for a private sale was state residency and a minimum age of 18 and not even that was enforced! 

That said, at a minimum we CAN do the following;

Universal Background Checks!

1) Gun show loophole

2) Person-to-person sales must pass through an FFL for a NICS check

3) Mandatory ATF reporting of “bulk purchases” of firearms and ammo

4) FULLY FUND and REQUIRE all states to report domestic abusers and adjudicated mentally unfit persons to the NICS

These would be a good start...