Air Force didn’t pass on info that would ban killer from guns

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Tom Van­den Brook, Jim Michaels and Kevin John­son

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

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