US air force failed to sub­mit dozens of records to gun back­ground check sys­tem

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Lois Beck­ett

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the US air force’s fail­ure to re­port crim­i­nal records to the na­tion’s gun back­ground check sys­tem has al­ready found “sev­eral dozen” records that should have been sub­mit­ted and were not.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion comes af­ter the mass shoot­ing at a Bap­tist church in Suther­land Springs, Texas, which left 26 peo­ple dead. The day af­ter the mur­der the air force an­nounced that the shooter should have been barred from le­gal gun own­er­ship be­cause of a 2012 con­vic­tion for abus­ing his wife and step­son.

The air force had failed to sub­mit the records of Devin Kel­ley’s do­mes­tic vi­o­lence record to the na­tional back­ground check sys­tem, al­low­ing Kel­ley to go on to pur­chase mul­ti­ple guns, de­spite his his­tory of vi­o­lence, an air force spokesper­son said.

Nearly a month into an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of th­ese re­port­ing er­rors, the air force has an­nounced that “the er­ror in the Kel­ley case was not an iso­lated in­ci­dent and sim­i­lar re­port­ing lapses oc­curred at other lo­ca­tions”.

Air force spokes­woman Ann Ste­fanek said on Tues­day: “Al­though poli­cies and pro­ce­dures re­quir­ing re­port­ing were in place, train­ing and com­pli­ance mea­sures were lack­ing.”

The United States, which rec­og­nizes gun own­er­ship as a con­sti­tu­tional right, al­lows cit­i­zens to buy guns from li­censed deal­ers af­ter a quick check to make sure they have not been listed in the na­tional data­base of Amer­i­cans dis­qual­i­fied from legally own­ing guns.

The fail­ure to re­port the cor­rect dis­qual­i­fy­ing crim­i­nal or men­tal health records to the back­ground check sys­tem has been a sys­temic prob­lem for years, with at least three high-pro­file mass shoot­ers get­ting weapons legally be­cause of a

break­down in re­port­ing or lo­cat­ing records.

The full scope of the air force’s fail­ure to re­port do­mes­tic vi­o­lence records and other dis­qual­i­fy­ing con­vic­tions to the gun-buy­ing back­ground check sys­tem is still un­known.

The air force “is re­view­ing ap­prox­i­mately 60,000 cases in­volv­ing se­ri­ous of­fenses over the 15-year pe­riod to en­sure full com­pli­ance,” spokesman Mark Graff said.

But he could not clar­ify if the “sev­eral dozen” records that had failed to be re­ported were found af­ter re­view­ing just a few hun­dred cases, or many thou­sand. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is “on­go­ing” and “will be com­pleted over the next sev­eral months,” he said.

The de­fense depart­ment is also in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether records from other branches of the mil­i­tary have been sub­mit­ted ap­pro­pri­ately.

While fed­eral agen­cies are al­ready re­quired by law to sub­mit crim­i­nal records to the gun back­ground check sys­tem, a bi­par­ti­san

group of leg­is­la­tors has in­tro­duced

new fed­eral leg­is­la­tion to make sure

that the US mil­i­tary fol­lows the law, in­clud­ing in­tro­duc­ing new re­quire­ments for pub­lic dis­clo­sure about record sub­mis­sions, and fi­nan­cial penal­ties for of­fi­cials whose agen­cies do not com­ply with the law.

“The fail­ures are so stark here, and the danger to the pub­lic is so stark, so I think there’s clearly a need for some dra­matic ac­tion,” Lind­say Ni­chols, the fed­eral pol­icy direc­tor at the Gif­fords Law Cen­ter to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence, said when the leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced ear­lier this month.

“If the air force failed to re­port some­body, and in­stead of re­sult­ing in the deaths of 26 peo­ple in a church, it re­sulted in the death of one per­son on the streets of Chicago, it prob­a­bly would not have sparked the same na­tional con­ver­sa­tion,” she said. “I don’t know if we’d even know about it.”

There are more than 11,000 firearm homi­cides each year in the US, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial es­ti­mates from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC).

The shoot­ing at a Bap­tist church in Suther­land Springs, Texas, left 26 peo­ple dead. Pho­to­graph: Rick Wilk­ing/Reuters

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