Lawmakers question military’s lapse after Texas shooting
Members of Congress are zeroing in on the military’s reporting system for violent crimes after the church shooting in Texas, questioning whether there is a systemic problem that must be addressed.
The identified gunman in Texas, Devin Kelley, received a “bad conduct” discharge from the Air Force in 2014 after being court-martialed on a domestic violence charge.
Kelley’s court-martial conviction should have been reported to the FBI’s National Criminal Information Center database. Had it been, it may have been harder for him to purchase a firearm legally.
But Air Force officials on Monday said the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigation did not enter Kelley’s information into the system.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday slammed the Air Force for the oversight, calling it “appalling.”
“I understand that [Air Force] Secretary [Heather] Wilson has initiated an investigation, but I don’t believe that the Air Force should be left to self-police after such tragic consequences. Furthermore, I am concerned that the failure to properly report domestic violence convictions may be a systemic issue,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said.
Thornberry commended the Pentagon inspector general for opening an investigation into the matter and vowed that his committee would conduct “comprehensive oversight.”
Thornberry’s statement came after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, promised an investigation as well.
Several Democrats on McCain’s committee called for a comprehensive review of each military branch’s criminal cases to see whether there have been other lapses similar to the Kelley case.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas on Tuesday announced he will introduce legislation that would require all federal departments to upload conviction records to the FBI’s database.
“According to the Department of Justice, the number of these records that are actually uploaded is staggeringly low. That is unacceptable and it must change,” Cornyn said in a statement.
“We need to better understand why our existing laws didn’t work in this instance and that’s what my proposed legislation will do.”
On Sunday, police say Kelley, 26, opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people.
The attack has reignited the long-running debate over whether tighter gun laws are needed to stop mass shootings.
“It is inexcusable for us to offer our sympathy but not take any action to prevent the next tragedy,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House Democratic whip.
But Republicans say stricter laws wouldn’t have prevented the massacre.
Asked about the shooting, President Trump on Tuesday said “hundreds more” would have died had a citizen nearby not been armed.
“If you did what you’re suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago, and you might not have had that very brave person who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck go out and shoot him, and hit him and neutralize him,” Trump said.
“And I can only say this: If he didn’t have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead. So that’s the way I feel about it. Not going to help.”
Other Republicans have stressed that Kelley shouldn’t have been able to purchase a gun at all.
“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,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told The Hill.
“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?”
Even if Kelley’s court martial had been reported to the FBI, he could have found other ways to purchase a weapon.
Unlicensed dealers, like some venders operating at gun shows and online, are not required to screen potential buyers, creating a loophole that Democrats and some Republicans have pushed, unsuccessfully, to close.
– Scott Wong contributed. This story was updated at 1:24 p.m.