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