On November 5, 26 people were brutally gunned down at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It is now clear beyond all doubt that this tragedy was completely preventable. The gunman, Devin Kelley, had been court-martialed in 2012 and convicted of cracking his son’s skull and frequently beating his wife while serving in the Air Force.
This should have prevented him from buying a firearm. However, this conviction was not entered into the database used to conduct background checks of gun buyers. Had those convictions been entered in, Kelley never gets that gun–and 26 people are likely still alive.
In light of this catastrophic blunder, the Air Force announced an internal review to see if more incidents had been missed–a likely sign that additional incidents had not been reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the federal database for clearing gun purchases. But Congress didn’t wait for that review to get underway before taking action. Bipartisan legislation is now pending that would penalize federal agencies for not reporting convictions to the NICS.
NEW: Bipartisan group of senators introduce bill to ensure authorities report criminal history records to background check system. The bill follows revelation that the Air Force had failed to submit Texas church shooter's conviction to FBI. pic.twitter.com/4IJUj4MgI3
— ABC News (@ABC) November 16, 2017
On Tuesday, the Air Force admitted that numerous other convictions should have been flagged, but were not.
In a statement, the Air Force said that the failure to report Kelley’s conviction “was not an isolated incident.” It found dozens of other “reporting lapses” occurred due to breakdowns in “training and compliance measures.” That number is certain to not only grow, but grow exponentially. Since 2002, more than 60,000 incidents have occurred in the Air Force that would normally be required to be uploaded to the database.
To their credit, the Air Force is working to ensure that there isn’t a next time for this. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is now required to ensure reportable cases are indeed reported by having personnel view either a printout or screenshot of the report. They are also reporting any previously unreported cases to the database as soon as they’re detected.
Don Christensen, the Air Force’s former chief prosecutor, believes this discovery shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Air Force brass. He told The New York Times that a number of investigations by the inspector general flagged similar lapses, “and the leadership never made it a priority to correct it.”
The bill may be coming due for this ignorance very soon. Joe and Claryce Holcombe filed a wrongful-death claim against the Air Force, alleging that “institutional failures” at the Air Force and the Pentagon resulted in eight of their relatives–including associate pastor Bryan Holcombe–being gunned down by Kelley. It is merely the first step in a long process that could lead to a lawsuit. However, given that the Air Force has already taken the error, this claim should be settled quickly.
The Air Force is trying to determine whether to take punitive measures against those who didn’t report Kelley’s conviction. Frankly, it’s surprising there’s even a debate. There is no doubt that had this been properly reported, this tragedy would have never happened. The people who allowed this to happen need to answer for it.
(featured image courtesy FBC Sutherland Springs’ Facebook)