Cities sue after Pentagon failed to report crimes to FBI gun check system

Three major U.S. cities on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit against the Pentagon to address a “clearly broken system” that they contend allowed a former Air Force serviceman to buy a gun and kill 26 people in a Texas church in November.

New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco seek to have the Defense Department (DOD) “fulfill their long-standing legal obligation to report all service members disqualified from purchasing and possessing firearms to the FBI’s national background check system,” according to a statement from the law firm filing the case.

Law enforcement officials in all three cities “regularly rely upon the integrity of the FBI’s background check system,” the attorneys write.

The case was brought after Devin Kelley opened fire Nov. 5 at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people.

It was later discovered that the Air Force had failed to report Kelley’s domestic violence conviction to the FBI. He had been court-martialed and sentenced to a year in prison in 2014 after beating his wife and cracking his stepson’s skull.

But the service didn’t send the conviction to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services, which would then upload such information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, barring Kelley from buying a gun.

Filed in federal court in Alexandria, Va., the lawsuit asks for an injunction and judicial oversight to ensure the Pentagon complies with its legal duty to submit records.

“Our three-city coalition will right this two-decade wrong,” said lead attorney Ken Taber. ”The Executive Branch and Congress have both had their chances to repair this clearly broken system. Now, after twenty years of failure, it’s time for the courts to step in.”

Top officials from the three cities spoke out after the lawsuit was filed.

“This failure on behalf of the Department of Defense has led to the loss of innocent lives by putting guns in the hands of criminals and those who wish to cause immeasurable harm,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said in a statement.

“New York City is joining Philadelphia and San Francisco to stand up to the Department of Defense and demand they comply with the law and repair their drastically flawed system.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) said the city “relies on this reporting when making the crucial decision whether a license-to-carry applicant should be permitted to carry a firearm.”

"We're joining in this suit because reporting these records is absolutely critical to those decisions. The background check system only works if it contains the proper records,” Kenney said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the DOD inspector general reported that the Air Force failed to submit records in approximately 14 percent of its cases, the Navy and Marine Corps failed to submit records in 36 percent of cases and the Army neglected to submit records in 41 percent of cases.

The Air Force has also moved to put in place steps to ensure that criminal records make it into federal databases.

The service is currently reviewing the 60,000 criminal cases since 2002 to determine whether they were properly shared with the FBI.