In the developing case of the shooting massacre that killed at least 26 at a small church in Texas Sunday, one thing is now undoubtedly clear: The suspected gunman, Devin Kelley, should not have been allowed to obtain a gun.
A spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed in a statement released to multiple news outlets Monday evening that the military branch had failed to properly inform the FBI of the 2012 court martial conviction for assaulting his wife and stepson that resulted in Kelley’s bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force two years later.
“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in the statement.
If the conviction had been recorded, Kelley likely would not have passed the background checks that Academy Sports + Outdoors has said gave the San Antonio-based retailer the green light to sell two guns to Kelley, one in 2016 and another 2017.
It’s still unclear whether those were the weapons used in Sunday’s deadly shooting, but those and any other weapons he may have purchased should have been prevented under the under the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment to the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, which prohibits possession of a firearm by anyone convicted of even a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence — including those convicted in military court.
“He should not have been able to purchase a gun,” said Gary Barthel, a retired U.S. Marine and attorney at the Military Law Center in San Diego. “No matter where he would’ve purchased it, … his conviction should’ve showed up on a criminal database.”
For some, Kelley’s history spotlights concerns about how domestic violence is handled within the military.
Rohini Hughes, vice president and co-founder of the National Military Spouse Advocacy Organization, or NMSAO, emphasized that “it’s very rare that someone is court-martialed for domestic violence.”
“That means that there was a plethora of evidence submitted, and substantiated, for that to happen,” Hughes said of Kelley’s conviction. She has herself been trying for the past two years to pursue domestic abuse charges against her own husband, a chief of military justice formerly based at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
In Kelley’s case, the details seem to have been clear. Retired Col. Don Christensen, former chief prosecutor for the Air Force, told the New York Times that in addition to assaulting his then wife, Kelley “assaulted his stepson severely enough that he fractured his skull.”
“He pled to intentionally doing it,” Christensen told the Times of the incident, which took place when Kelley was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
Nearly five years later, after Sunday’s massacre, Freeman Martin, regional commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told reporters he believed Kelley came to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs this Sunday “with a purpose and a mission.”
Though investigators are still trying to determine exactly what that mission was, recent reports suggest the shooting was preceded by yet another domestic dispute. Kelley’s mother-in-law, who lives in Sutherland Springs but was not at the church during the massacre, has reportedly told authorities that she’d recently received threatening text messages from Kelley.
As one investigation continues, another one begins. In light of the revelation that Kelley’s past domestic violence conviction had not properly submitted to the FBI under Pentagon rules, the Air Force announced Monday that its top two officials, Secretary Heather Wilson and chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein have ordered reviews of the Kelley case as well as the Air Force’s own criminal records database.
“The Air Force has also requested that the Department of Defense inspector general review records and procedures across the Department of Defense,” said Stefanek, according to The Associated Press.
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