Air Force Admits Its Failure To Report Texas Church Shooter Was ‘Not An Isolated Incident’

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An Air Force review has found that the branch failed to report “several dozen” service members found guilty of violent offenses to the federal gun background check database, with representatives of the service telling the New York Times that the reporting failure that allowed disgraced airman Devin Patrick Kelley to purchase the firearms he used to murder 26 parishioners in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church on Nov. 5 “was not an isolated incident.”


In the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting, the Department of Defense determined that Kelley’s 2012 court-martial conviction for beating his wife and infant son should have disqualified him from purchasing firearms, but he was not reported to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the database for firearms-related background checks for private dealers and state outlets. The Air Force review found that since 2002, a whopping 60,000 incidents involving airmen that “potentially” merited inclusion in NICS went unaddressed, according to the New York Times.

Law enforcement officials investigate a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017.Photo via Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman/Associated Press

“Similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations” besides Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where Kelley was stationed, the Air Force said in a statement. “Although policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking.”

Under federal law, anyone dishonorably discharged from the armed forces is prohibited from possessing or receiving firearms or ammo transported across state lines. The 1996 Lautenberg amendment that extends that prohibition to military personnel with domestic violence convictions.

Related: How Severe Military Punishments (Are Supposed To) Bar Gun Possession »

The Air Force has experienced major lapses in reporting serious crimes committed to essential law enforcement databases like NICS for decades. In 1997, a DoD IG report found that the Air Force had failed to report 38 percent of fingerprint cards and 50 percent of criminal case outcomes to the FBI over a six-month period from 1995 to 1996, according to a Nov. 7 Associated Press report; a 2015 follow-up found the branch didn’t report 39 percent of its fingerprint data over a two year period between 2010 and 2012.

The causes of that the gap?  “Ambiguous Pentagon guidelines and a lack of interest among the military services in submitting information to an FBI viewed as chronically overburdened with data,” according to the AP report, language echoed in the Air Force’s Nov. 28 statement.

Air Force fingerprint reporting data from a 2015 Department of Defense Inspector General auditPhoto via DoD

In the wake of Kelley’s rampage and subsequent revelations regarding his troubled history, the Pentagon has been racing to overhaul its background check and criminal reporting procedures. Among the new measures pushed by branch officials, according to the New York Times: a mandate that Air Force Office of Special Investigations personnel “confirm that reportable cases have been entered in the federal database by seeing either a printout or a screenshot from the database.”

Time will tell how AFOSI plans on actually interpreting and implementing that mandate.

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