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Texas Church Shooter Should Have Been Blocked From Owning Guns


Here's one thing we've learned about the shooting at a church in Texas on Sunday. The rifle, used to kill 26 people and injure many more, was sold to the gunman because of an error by the U.S. Air Force. The gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, joined the Air Force in 2010. While enlisted, he was court-martialed for assaulting his then wife and infant stepson. The Air Force should have forwarded that information to the FBI to be included in a background-check database for gun sales. It never happened. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman broke this story. He's here with us now in the studio. Hey, Tom.


KELLY: What happened?

BOWMAN: Well, simply, the Air Force investigators never put that information, that criminal information into the federal criminal data system. It's supposed to be done, Mary Louise, on two occasions - when there's a probable cause a serious crime has been committed, and then once again it's updated after a court reaches a decision, either an acquittal or a conviction. In neither case was this done by investigators at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where Devin Kelley was serving and then was arrested for assaulting his baby stepson. He actually fractured the child's skull and then also assaulted his wife. So that information on two occasions was never put in the database.

KELLY: So does this look like just a case where the military justice system wasn't communicating as it should have been with civilian justice?

BOWMAN: Right. Well, you're supposed to put this information into the system. And we spoke with a former Air Force prosecutor who said it should have been - he should have been prohibited from having a gun for two reasons. The first is his crime was punishable for more than a year in jail. He only served a year, but he was actually - he should have received five years, number one. Number two, he should have been barred from purchasing a weapon because of domestic abuse. That should have barred him from getting a firearm. But since none of that appeared, he was able to buy the weapons at the stores in Texas.

KELLY: OK. So it's 100 percent clear that if his conviction had been correctly communicated with the FBI, entered into that database, he would not have been able to buy a gun?

BOWMAN: That's correct.

KELLY: OK. Do we know at this point, isolated incident or is there a larger institutional problem here? I mean, might there be others with military convictions who haven't been correctly entered into the national gun database?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, the Air Force, I'm told, is taking this very seriously. The Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson has asked for a full investigation. And I'm told the Pentagon inspector general is looking at all the other services to make sure that information is put into the federal database. But the indications are it's probably not enough information is getting in there, that we're told the Pentagon has reported 11,000 service members to this database, but nearly all of those are for dishonorable discharges, and that alone would prohibit you from getting a firearm. In this case with Devin Kelley, he had a bad conduct discharge, which would not have automatically prevented him from getting a firearm. So it appears on the face of it that not enough information is being added to this database by the Pentagon.

KELLY: Another stunning twist to an awful story. NPR's Tom Bowman there. Thanks very much for your reporting.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.