Devin Kelley, the gunman who killed 26 people in a Sutherland Springs, TX, church on Sunday, should have never been allowed to purchase a gun. In 2012, Kelley was court-martialed by the Air Force and convicted of domestic assault — an offense that would have prevented him from buying a weapon if the Air Force had not made a fatal reporting error.
On Monday, Air Force officials admitted that Kelley’s domestic violence conviction was not entered into the federal background check database used to screen potential gun owners. “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.
Kelley’s conviction and eventual bad conduct discharge from the Air Force stemmed from a violent altercation in which he assaulted his wife and cracked his stepson’s skull. He was convicted of two domestic violence charges and was sentenced to a year of confinement at a Navy brig in San Diego, CA. Academy Sports, a gun retailer based in Texas that sold Kelley two weapons this year and last, confirmed he passed federal background checks, according to The Washington Post. When Kelley bought a gun in 2016, officials said, he checked a box indicating he did not have a criminal record.
“The Air Force has launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P. Kelley following his 2012 domestic violence conviction,” the statement continued. “Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction.”
This calamitous oversight raises a foreboding question: was the Air Force’s failure to report Kelley’s conviction an isolated error or systemic issue? By the Air Force’s account, an answer to that question remains unclear. As a precaution, the Air Force “will also conduct a comprehensive review of Air Force databases to ensure records in other cases have been reported correctly.”
Kelley’s conviction would have also barred him from buying body armor, which witnesses said he wore during Sunday’s massacre. While he was denied a concealed carry permit by Texas, the Air Force’s error proves background checks are not enough to prevent would-be mass killers from obtaining semiautomatic weapons they so often use to inflict terror in cities across the country.