Air Force error allowed Texas shooter to buy guns despite conviction

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 07 2017 12:38 PM

Crosses are seen near a vigil in memory of the victims killed in the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas. Reuters

WASHINGTON - A domestic violence conviction legally prohibited the Texas church shooter from buying guns, but the Air Force failed to enter it into a database used to run background checks, officials said Monday.

Devin Kelley -- who shot dead 26 people at a Texas church -- could therefore have passed the background check required to buy a gun, which would have raised red flags if the conviction had been properly entered.

"Initial information indicates that (Devin) Kelley's domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations," Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said in a statement.

Pictures from social media accounts of Devin Kelley, the 26-year-old ex-Air Force member who walked into a church in Sutherland Springs with an assault rifle on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding 20 more. AFP

The database is one of three that are checked as part of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which licensed dealers are legally required to use to perform background checks under the 1993 Brady Act, aimed at reducing handgun violence.

While licensed dealers have to conduct checks, private sellers do not -- a major loophole in current regulations that allows purchases to be made, including at massive gun shows and online, without scrutiny of the buyer.

Kelley was convicted by a court-martial in 2012 of "two charges of domestic assault against his wife and step-son," which meant that under federal law, he was "prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction," Stefanek said.

Background checks cleared shooter

In addition to investigating the Kelley case, the Air Force is carrying out a "comprehensive review" to make sure that records from other cases have been correctly reported, she said.

Kelley was given a "bad conduct" discharge from the Air Force after serving 12 months behind bars -- a step up from "dishonorable," which also would also have prevented him from buying guns.

FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs told a news conference on Monday that NICS performed as designed, but that the disqualifying information was not there.

"I can tell you that for the four purchases that he made, the NICS system did their required checks," Combs said.

"There was no prohibitive information in the systems that we check that said that he could not have purchased that firearm," he said.

Combs did not specify when the purchases were made, nor if they were of firearms used in the church shooting.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said earlier in the day that Kelley had been denied a gun permit, an apparent reference to a concealed carry license, as state law does not require permits for gun ownership.

Kelley was armed with a Ruger assault rifle when he carried out the attack on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, which also wounded 20 people.

Officials said that he had two pistols -- a Ruger .22 and a Glock 9mm -- in his vehicle.

A family dispute may have sparked the rampage by Kelley, who died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound following the shooting, officials said.

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