Texas church shooter Devin P. Kelley, who was known to have a violent past, should not have been able to buy firearms and body armor because of his domestic violence conviction back in 2014 while serving at the Halloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
However, according to the Washington Post, the Air Force has admitted that it dropped the ball and failed to follow the appropriate procedures to alert federal authorities about Kelley’s past, thus enabling the former airman to purchase weapons before he attacked a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing more than 20 people.
Kelley had been court-martialed while in the Air Force and was ultimately convicted in 2014 for abusing his wife and his stepchild. He was sentenced to a year in prison before being kicked out of the military with a bad-conduct discharge.
“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database,” Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said in a statement Monday.
Stefanek added that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have ordered an investigation into Kelley’s case and “relevant policies and procedures.”
The New York Times notes that under federal law, Kelley—who assaulted his wife and toddler stepson to the point where he cracked the child’s skull—should not have been able to legally purchase the military-style rifle and the three other guns that he had accumulated over the past few years.
The Times reports that federal law has about 11 criteria that would prevent someone from purchasing a gun. Two of them, it appears, would apply in Kelley’s case: conviction of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison—i.e., the assault of his stepson, which carried a maximum sentence of five years—and conviction of a domestic violence misdemeanor.
The Air Force will also be investigating whether other convictions had not been reported to the federal database for firearms background checks, according to the Times.
Academy Sports, a firearms retailer, confirmed Monday that Kelley had bought two weapons from its stores after clearing federal background checks this year and last year, according to the Post. It is still not clear whether those weapons were the ones that were used in Sunday’s massacre, but nonetheless, it showcases the Air Force’s failure to follow Pentagon guidelines in making sure that certain violent offenses get reported to the FBI.
A separate law should have prevented Kelley, a violent offender, from purchasing the body armor that he was seen wearing during the mass shooting.
Geoffery Corn, a former Army lawyer and a professor at the South Texas College of Law, told the Post that there seems to be some confusion in the armed forces about what gets reported to authorities.
The Post notes:
Corn said it appears there is confusion within the Air Force, and other military branches, about only reporting violent crimes that result in dishonorable discharges, which are more severe punishments under military law than the bad-conduct discharge Kelley received.
“Either the Department of Defense is reporting these convictions, or they’re not,” Corn said. “How is the federal statute going to be effectively implemented if they aren’t reporting these convictions?”
The Times notes that Kelley’s bad-conduct discharge does not, in and of itself, mean an automatic ban from purchasing guns.
From the Times:
The Department of Defense has reported only one domestic violence case to the federal database for gun purchase background checks, records show. It has reported 11,000 service members to the database, but almost all of them were because of dishonorable discharges, which prohibit gun purchases. Mr. Kelley, after serving 12 months in a Navy brig in California, received a “bad conduct” discharge, which is not by itself an automatic bar to gun purchases.