Air Force acknowledges it failed to report Texas church shooter conviction
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 6, 2017
Devin P. Kelley’s convictions for child and spousal assault while in the Air Force should have prevented him from owning the assault rifle that authorities said he used in Sunday’s massacre at a Texas church.
However, the Air Force did not submit the gunman's criminal history to the FBI, as required by Pentagon rules, a service statement said.
“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement released Monday. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have directed an investigation of Kelley’s case and “relevant policies and procedures,” she said.
Kelley’s 2012 convictions were both felonies and domestic violence. Either preclude gun possession by federal law — and are supposed to be relayed to databases used by the FBI for background checks required when people buy firearms from licensed gun sellers.
Kelley reportedly bought the rifle in 2016 from a San Antonio gun store.
“Somebody blew it,” said Don Christensen, who was the Air Force’s top prosecutor when Kelley was prosecuted, said hours before the Air Force announcement. “It’s just a question of who.”
Kelley’s convictions stemmed from a year or so after he joined the Air Force in 2009 after graduating from high school.
According to case records, Kelley assaulted his then-wife and her baby, his stepchild.
The baby suffered a fractured skull in the assault, prosecutors said.
He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for grievous bodily harm, with a maximum punishment of five years in jail.
A pre-trial agreement capped his sentence at 18 months, but an Air Force jury instead sentenced him to 12 months of confinement.
Kelley served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico starting in 2010, Stefanek said.
He was discharged in 2014 with a bad conduct discharge.
That discharge, unlike a dishonorable discharge, would not have triggered preclusion from gun ownership. But his convictions, a felony and involving domestic violence, should have.
“There are two reasons why he should not have been able to own a firearm,” Christensen said.
The 1968 Gun Control Act made it unlawful for a licensed firearms dealer to sell a weapon to a person convicted of felonies.
The so-called Lautenberg Amendment later made it unlawful to sell to people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions.
Kelley’s disqualifying convictions did not show up when he bought the Ruger AR-556 rifle he allegedly used in the shooting, law enforcement sources told CNN.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas told CNN that Kelley had been rejected when he applied for a license to carry a handgun in Texas. State officials did not specify why he was rejected, and a carrying license is not required to purchase a firearm from a gun shop so long as the buyer passes the federal background check.
Licensed gun sellers start a background check by reaching the FBI or a state point of contact. The check is usually run by phone or computer after the prospective buyer provides a government-issued ID and completes a federal firearms transaction record, according to the FBI website.
The background check is valid for up to 30 days and only covers a single transaction. In most cases, a check takes only a couple of minutes.
Roughly 92 percent of checks render an instant verdict, according to the FBI. If a check is clean, the gun is sold. If it’s denied, the sale doesn’t go through. In about 8 percent of cases, the verdict is delayed, and the seller must wait three days. If there is no verdict after three days, the sale can go through, according to the FBI.