Air Force slammed over error that allowed Texas church shooter to buy weapons

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On Tuesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he has ordered the Pentagon’s inspector general to “find out what’s going on” after news broke Monday that the Air Force failed to report the Texas church shooter’s domestic violence conviction and criminal record to the FBI’s National Criminal Information Center database.

The slip-up happened during the Obama administration, but Mattis now says, “If the problem is we didn’t put something out, we’ll correct that.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that the military has been failing to comply with reporting rules for years. 

As recently as February 2015, the Pentagon inspector general reported that hundreds of convicted offenders’ fingerprints were not submitted to the FBI’s criminal history database. The report found about a 30 percent failure rate for submitting fingerprints and criminal case outcomes. It did not determine the reasons for the lapses.

A February 1997 report by the Pentagon inspector general found widespread lapses. Fingerprint cards were not submitted to the FBI criminal history files in more than 80 percent of cases in the Army and Navy, and 38 percent in the Air Force. Failure to report the outcome of criminal cases was 79 percent in the Army and 50 percent in the Air Force, the report said. In the Navy, it was 94 percent.

Devin Patrick Kelley, the gunman who walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Sunday morning, slaughtering 26 people and wounding 20 others, was not supposed to purchase or own a firearm due to a prior conviction while he was a member of the military.

On Monday, the U.S. Air Force admitted that it was its own mistake which made it possible for Kelley to pass a background check and purchase weapons.

While a member of the Air Force, Kelley, 26, was convicted by a general court-martial in 2012 on two charges of domestic assault for assaulting his wife and her child. Court-martial documents made public Monday evening revealed Kelley kicked, hit and choked his wife in multiple incidents, between June 2011 and April 2012.

The document states that he also hit his wife’s young child “on the head and body with a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.” Another report said Kelley hit his stepson “severely enough that he fractured his skull.”

For those assaults, he was sentenced to spend a year in military prison. In 2014, Kelley was reduced in rank and given a bad-conduct discharge. Later, he applied for a concealed carry permit, but that was denied by the State of Texas.

However, within the past four years, Kelley purchased a total of four guns, three of which were recovered Sunday from his vehicle – a rifle and two handguns.

“By all of the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun. So, how did this happen?” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in an interview Monday morning on CNN. “We are in search of answers to these questions.”

How it happened has now been revealed to be a major error on the part of the U.S. Air Force. Due to his court-martial conviction, it should have been illegal for him to own weapons.

The Air Force admitted Monday that Kelley’s offense was not entered into a national database, and they have now launched an internal review to find out why there was a failure to follow policies for alerting federal law enforcement about Kelley’s past convictions.

“Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction,” Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Stefanek admitted in the statement released Monday: “Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database.”

The Washington Post reported:

Firearms retailer Academy Sports also confirmed Monday that Kelley purchased two weapons from its stores after passing federal background checks this year and last. It remains unclear whether those were the same weapons used in Sunday’s massacre, but his ability to purchase guns at all highlights the Air Force’s failure to follow Pentagon guidelines for ensuring certain violent offenses are reported to the FBI.

While military law does not classify crimes as felonies or misdemeanors, Kelley’s sentence was a functional felony conviction, said Geoffrey Corn, a former Army lawyer and professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. A separate law prohibits violent offenders from purchasing body armor, which Kelley was seen wearing during the rampage.

Kelley walked into the church Sunday morning–dressed in black and wearing a bullet-proof vest–and opened fire with a Ruger semi-automatic rifle, killing 26 men, women and children, and wounding 20 others as they were praying in the pews. Among the dead were eight victims from a single family. In all, the deceased ranged from 18 months to 77 years of age. At least 10 of those wounded are in critical condition in the hospital.

Kelley’s first wife had filed for divorce in 2012, the same year he was sent to prison for abusing her and her son. He remarried in 2014. According to law enforcement, he committed the mass murder over a domestic dispute with his in-laws, who sometimes attended the church. Kelley had sent threatening texts to his mother-in-law, authorities stated. His wife’s grandmother was one of the victims.

The failure by the Air Force to report his criminal record also allowed Kelley to pass a Texas Department of Public Safety criminal background check to get a summer job at a Schlitterbahn water park, working as an unarmed night security guard. However, he was fired from that job in July because he was “not a good fit,” the Washington Post reports.

A statement released Monday by Academy Sports and Outdoors in San Antonio, where Kelley purchased two weapons, reads:

Academy Sports + Outdoors sends our deepest condolences to the families of the victims and the entire Sutherland Springs community. Based on information we received from law enforcement, we confirmed that the suspect purchased two firearms from two San Antonio locations, one in 2016 and one in 2017. We also confirmed that both sales were approved by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). We are cooperating with law enforcement as they investigate further.

Lawmakers are outraged over the Air Force’s failure to report Kelley’s criminal past. House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a news conference Tuesday that he wants to know how Kelley “slipped through the cracks.”

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