Air Force didn’t pass on info that would ban killer from guns
WASHINGTON – The Air Force failed to flag Devin Kelley as banned from buying the weapons he used to kill 26 people and wound 20 worshipers at a South Texas church Sunday, the Air Force acknowledged late Monday.
Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by Air Force officials at Holloman Air Force Base where he had served, Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The Air Force was required to provide the information to the database because Kelley was convicted of do-
mestic assault and under federal law would have been ineligible to purchase a gun legally.
A review was ordered into how the error occurred, Stefanek said.
The Pentagon’s inspector general launched an investigation to review the Air Force’s handling of the records, according to spokesman Mark Wright.
Kelley was convicted of assault in a military court in 2012 for fracturing the skull of his young stepson, and the FBI should have barred him from buying the weapons, said Don Christensen, the Air Force’s former top prosecutor, whose office oversaw Kelley’s prosecution. Kelley was convicted on another count for beating his wife.
The information related to Kelley’s court-martial and the underlying domestic violence offenses were not transmitted by the military to the FBI’s National Instant Check System used to vet prospective gun purchasers, a law enforcement official said Monday.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said authorities attempted to reconcile Kelley’s gun purchases with federal law, which prohibits those with criminal records involving misdemeanor domestic violence from obtaining or owning firearms.
Under terms of a 1996 amendment to the Gun Control Act, known as the Lautenberg Amendment, gun purchases would be denied to those who used force or even attempted to use force against a family member.
The conviction should have flagged Kelley as ineligible to buy the weapons, if the FBI had been made aware of it, Christensen said.
“This clearly fell under federal law, without a doubt,” Christensen said Monday. “The Air Force is supposed to report the information to FBI. It was possible that it was never reported. It’s possible that somebody in the Air Force just blew it.”
Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said late Monday that the breakdown exposes “deadly gaps in our system.”
“We thank the Air Force for being forthright and launching an immediate investigation into both this killer’s record and all other Air Force records,” Gardiner said.
The child was born in 2010, and the beatings began a year later, Christensen said. The boy suffered subdural hematoma, bleeding in his brain, from shaking and skull fractures, he said.
Kelley offered a partial confession to the charges and entered a plea agreement that capped his sentence at three years.
Kelley was also convicted at courtmartial of beating his wife and was jailed for one year.
He received a bad conduct discharge, not the harsher dishonorable discharge, and was busted to the Air Force’s lowest rank.
The oversight could have occurred because the military court labeled Kelley’s assaults on his wife and stepson in the same category as a bar fight, said Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the services.
The military has been reluctant to hold troops accountable for domestic abuse, Christensen said.
Kelley used a Ruger AR-15 in the church shooting, purchased last year in San Antonio, and two handguns were found in his vehicle.
“The Air Force is supposed to report the information to FBI. ... It’s possible that somebody in the Air Force just blew it.” Don Christensen prosecutor whose office oversaw Kelley’s Air Force prosecution
Members of the FBI look for evidence in a field next to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. COURTNEY SACCO/USA TODAY NETWORK