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Here's How Severe Military Punishments (Are Supposed To) Bar Gun Possession
How did a disgraced airman, convicted by court-martial of assaulting his wife and child, get access to the weapons he used Nov. 5 to commit the deadliest mass shooting in an American house of worship? The short answer seems to be: not legally. But the case of Devin Patrick Kelley, who murdered 26 parishioners before dying of a gunshot in his flipped car, illuminates a confusing tangle of federal regulations that are supposed to keep guns out of domestic abusers’ hands.
Monday evening, after we originally published this article, the Air Force provided some answers in a statement, saying, "Initial information indicates that Kelley's domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigation."
Following revelations from the Air Force, the Department of Defense also released a statement saying it has called for its own inspector general to review the handling of Kelley's record in conjunction wit the Air Force. "The DoD IG will also review relevant policies and procedures to ensure records from other cases across DoD have been reported correctly," the statement said.
We know that Kelley enlisted in 2010 as an Air Force logistics specialist, and that in 2012, he was court-martialed on two Article 128 counts for assault. He was found guilty, reduced to E-1, sentenced to 12 months’ confinement, and given a bad-conduct discharge. The military denied him a further appeal in 2014; he would be discharged later that year. One of the weapons Kelley used in the murders — a Ruger AR-15 variant dubbed the AR-556 — he purchased at an Academy Sports & Outdoors in San Antonio last April, sources told CNN. (Eyewitness reports suggest Kelley had at least one pistol, too.)
Should Kelley’s UCMJ conviction have prevented him from legally owning guns? It appears so — but the process is tricky and cumbersome. Here is the decision tree:
1. No firearms for dishonorable discharges.
This is an ironclad regulation: Federal law makes it a crime for anyone who has been dishonorably discharged from the military to possess or receive firearms or ammunition — if the gun or ammo “was transported across a state line at any time.” (That last part is necessary for a federal crime to have been committed; many states, though, use the federal standard to bar DDs from gun possession in their jurisdictions.)
In Kelley’s case, neither applies. He got a bad-conduct discharge. Dishonorable discharges, or DDs, are rare even in clear-cut general courts-martial, one former Air Force JAG says:
2. No firearms for felons.
The same federal code bars convicted felons (and those being tried for felonies) from possessing guns. The UCMJ doesn’t classify crimes as “felonies” or “misdemeanors,” but under this law, the civilian federal authorities can consider a crime a felony if it could have been punished by more than a year in jail. “Summary” courts-martial or non-judicial punishments don’t count, but convictions at a special or general court-martial can.
That may very well have applied to Kelley; the nature of his court-martial wasn’t immediately known by press time.
3. No firearms for convicted domestic abusers.
Studies over the years have shown a high correlation between gun violence and domestic abuse, leading critics in the early 1990s to argue that many convicted misdemeanor abusers should have been denied guns but weren’t because their crimes weren’t felonies. The 1996 Lautenberg Act changed this, barring those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from owning guns or ammo.
Military policy states — and military law experts agree — that any domestic-assault conviction at a special or general court-martial applies here; NJPs and summary courts-martial don’t. It looks like this provision (and/or the felony provision above) probably applied to Kelley’s conviction, given the length of his confinement and his subsequent denial for a Texas gun license; more on that below.
4. Service members prohibited from possessing guns or ammo for domestic abuse or violent crimes would appear in one or both of two military databases.
Reports of child abuse by a service member, substantiated or otherwise, typically go into a Family Advocacy Plan registry for tracking. Service members can also be asked at any time, particularly when issued weapons, to fill out a DoD Form 2760 certifying that they’re not disqualified from possessing firearms or ammunition. It’s on them to report any disqualifying convictions.
Criminal convictions in the military system, however, are typically sent by the military authority to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, where they may be sorted into a couple of federal databases — most notably, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), where state authorities and firearms dealers will find them in gun-related background checks. When and how this happens, exactly, varies by military prison facility and law enforcement agency, though. Initial reporting by The Trace suggests the military may never share domestic-abuse information with the FBI, unless the abuser was dishonorably discharged. In Monday night's statement, the Air Force said Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff. Gen. David Goldfein have called for a "complete review of the Kelley case and relevant policies and procedures."
6. State law dictates who gets background checks. Kelley should’ve had two.
On CNN Nov. 6, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told viewers that “Devin Kelley sought to get a license to carry a gun in the state of Texas, but the state of Texas denied him the ability to get a gun.” He didn’t specify when that happened, but when someone applies for a handgun license in Texas, authorities in Austin perform a background investigation of the applicant that includes local and state records, as well as the FBI’s NICS databases. Looks like Kelley’s didn’t go well.
“So how was it that he was able to get a gun?” Abbott asked. Good question — one worth asking Academy Sports & Outdoor in San Antonio, which reportedly sold Kelley that Ruger AR in April 2016. CNN reported that Kelley had falsified his application for the firearm, stating he didn’t have a disqualifying conviction and he resided in Colorado Springs. Even so, his name would’ve been run against the NICS database by the sporting goods store — and there “was no disqualifying information in the background check conducted as required for the purchase,” CNN reported, citing information from a law enforcement official.
That would suggest that either Academy screwed up the background check somehow — not likely — or the NICS information it got back didn’t include Kelley’s military rap sheet, which now seems more likely given the Air Force's admission that it failed to report Kelley's conviction to the federal authorities.
We also have eyewitness testimony placing more firearms than just the AR in Kelley’s hands — and we know that, if he bought them privately, person to person, there would likely have been no background checks necessary anyway.
The upshot is that in a nation of roughly 320 million people and 300 million firearms, with a longstanding tradition of individual gun rights and a lot of anger, there are more ways for people with malign intent to get guns than there are to stop them.
UPDATE: This article was updated to include a statement from the U.S. Air Force saying it did not alert authorities of Kelley's domestic violence conviction (Updated 11/6/2016; 7:05 pm EST).
'It just happened' — the Iraq War’s first living Medal of Honor recipient recalls his harrowing fight against 5 insurgents
On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.
Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.
In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.
With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.
After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.
Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.
McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.
Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.
The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.
They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.
It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.
WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.
Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."
"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.
While it can be difficult to peg down just how star-spangled a state is, one indicator is the rate at which citizens enlist in the military, especially during the United States' longest period of sustained conflict. At least, that's the thinking behind WalletHub's new study, 2019's Most Patriotic States in America.