Ryan: Enforcing existing laws would have prevented Texas massacre

Ryan: Enforcing existing laws would have prevented Texas massacre
© Greg Nash

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Anti-Defamation League calls on House leaders to censure Steve King over white supremacy comments MORE (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that enforcing existing laws would have prevented the mass shooting at a church in rural Texas that left more than two dozen people dead over the weekend.

“How about enforcing the laws we’ve got on the books? This man should not have gotten a gun. You know why? Because he was a domestic abuser,” Ryan replied when a reporter from The Hill asked what other ideas the Speaker had to stop such mass shootings.

“We have laws on the books that says if you are a domestic abuser, you are not supposed to own a gun. He was a domestic abuser,” Ryan continued. “That’s why we’ve got all these questions with the Air Force right now. … How did this slip through the cracks? How is it that this person who was convicted of domestic abuse by the Air Force, how did he get through the system and get a gun? Because the laws we have right now on the books say a person like this should not have gotten a gun. … This man should not have had a gun in the first place.”

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The gunman, whom law enforcement identified as 26-year-old Devin Kelley, killed 26 people and injured 20 others on Sunday inside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, about 35 miles outside of San Antonio. Kelley died after fleeing the scene.

Kelley had been court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and stepson. Two years later, he was discharged from the Air Force for “bad conduct.”

Current federal law prohibits certain people from buying or owning firearms, including those convicted of domestic violence. Kelley’s court-martial, therefore, made him ineligible to purchase the guns he did, but the Air Force did not submit his criminal history to the federal database that screens prohibited buyers before gun sales.

Yet even if the Air Force had submitted that information, Kelley still may have obtained firearms because only licensed dealers are required to perform background checks through the federal database. Unlicensed dealers, like some venders operating at gun shows and online, are not required to screen potential buyers, creating a loophole for those with a violent history like that of Kelley.

Democrats, and some Republicans, have called for years to close the so-called “gun-show loophole” by requiring background checks before all gun sales, and Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingHouse passes bills to fund Transportation Dept., HUD, Agriculture GOP emphasizes unity ahead of new shutdown votes Dems look to chip away at Trump tax reform law MORE (R-N.Y.) introduced legislation to that effect on Friday.

But most Republicans, including Ryan, have rejected that proposal as an unnecessary infringement on Second Amendment rights.

"I've been here for a number of these massacres and Congress does not act," King told The Hill Monday.

Sunday’s massacre in Texas came roughly a month after another lone shooter killed 58 people on the Las Vegas Strip in the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history. The gunman in that case used a device, known as a bump stock, that allows semi-automatic rifles to fire at a rate similar to automatic weapons, which are illegal.

After that incident, Ryan called on the administration to put new restrictions on bump stocks, though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives appears to be leaning against taking action. It’s unclear if Ryan would support bump-stock legislation if the Trump administration does not act on the issue.

Ryan made his remarks Tuesday as he stood next to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who nearly died in June when a gunman targeted congressional Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game.

--This report was updated at 12:20 p.m.