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IG: Air Force missed six chances to notify FBI of Texas shooter

The Air Force failed to notify the FBI six times of the man who shot and killed 26 people in a Texas church last year, allowing him to buy a gun when he should not have been able to, according to an inspector general report.

There were four times when the Air Force should have submitted to the FBI the fingerprints of Devin Patrick Kelley, who was convicted in a court-martial of assault. The Air Force also should have submitted a report to the FBI on two occasions on Kelley’s final disposition.

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“If Kelley’s fingerprints were submitted to the FBI, he would have been prohibited from purchasing a firearm from a licensed firearms dealer,” the Pentagon inspector general said in a 131-page report released Friday.

“Because his fingerprints were not submitted to the FBI [Criminal Justice Information Services] Division, Kelley was able to purchase firearms, which he used to kill 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on November 5, 2017.”

The report concluded that there was “no valid reason” for the Air Force’s failures.

Kelley’s 2012 conviction came after beating and choking his wife and hitting his infant stepson hard enough to fracture his skull.

The conviction should have prevented him from buying a gun in a store as federal law prohibits people convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm.

The Air Force should have sent Kelley’s fingerprints to the FBI after each of three interviews Kelley had during the investigation into the assault and after his conviction, the inspector general said.

But because the Air Force did not give the FBI his fingerprints, he passed a federally mandated background check and bought four firearms at federally licensed dealers, the inspector general said.

Three of those firearms were used in the Texas church shooting, which also wounded 22 people, the report said.

The inspector general concluded the fingerprints were not submitted in part because investigators were unclear on or unaware of the requirement. In other instances, investigators did not give the inspector general “a clear, supportable reason or explanation” why the fingerprints weren’t submitted.

“The investigators and confinement personnel had a duty to know, and should have known, the [Department of Defense] and [Air Force] fingerprint policies, and should have followed them,” the report said. “The failures had drastic consequences and should not have occurred.”

The report makes several recommendations, including implementing a background check system during recruiting since Kelley was also found to have been accused of criminal activity before entering the Air Force.

Other recommendations include reviewing the training program on submitting final disposition reports, pursuing legislation to include the military’s versions of restraining orders in the factors that disqualify someone from owning a gun and reviewing the conduct of personnel described in the report for possible administration or disciplinary action.

Air Force officials requested the inspector general investigate the service’s handling of Kelley’s criminal record after the shooting. 

They also requested a review of the Air Force’s reporting procedures more broadly to see whether there have been other lapses. An earlier inspector general report found there were “serious deficiencies” in the Pentagon’s reporting to the FBI.