Months after former Air Force veteran Devin Kelley, massacred 26 people and injured another 20 at a Texas church, the U.S. military added more than 4,000 names to a national database of dishonorably discharged military personnel who are banned from owning firearms.
The U.S. Air Force is currently facing a number of wrongful death claims related to the Nov. 5, 2017 attack on First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs that argue that the massacre could have been prevented. Kelley, who killed himself after the attack, had been convicted of domestic abuse while in the Air Force, but the Air Force failed to enter that information into a federal criminal database which could have kept him from purchasing firearms.
A CNN report highlighting data from the FBI said in just three months the agency's tally of dishonorably discharged former service members increased by 4,284 names, revealing what the network called a "massive hole in the nation's gun buying background check system."
Since 2015, the report said, the number of people barred from owning firearms due to being dishonorably discharged from the military was just over 11,000. Shortly after the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs last November, however, that figure jumped to 14,825. In December, it increased to 15,583 and it now stands at 15,597.
Kelley received a "bad conduct" discharge from the Air Force in 2014 related to charges of assaulting his wife and child in 2012. Since the charges were equivalent to a felony, it disqualified him from gun ownership. His name, however, was not entered into the FBI's national database and he was able to purchase guns by lying.
"He lied on his application. He had a history of mental illness, and there were bureaucratic failures," Vice President Mike Pence said in a visit to Sutherland Springs, where he pledged to ensure that the bureaucratic failures that allowed Kelley access to weapons would never happen again shortly after the shooting.
"We will find out why this information was not properly reported in 2012 and we are working with leaders in Congress to ensure this never happens again," he said.
Days after the lawsuits from the families of the church shooting victims were filed, the Air Force admitted that an ongoing review of about 60,000 serious cases going as far back as 2002 had shown "several dozen" cases where crimes were not entered into the federal database.
"Preliminary findings by the Air Force Inspector General confirmed the OSI and Security Forces personnel then assigned at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, did not report required information to civilian law enforcement in the Kelley case," the Air Force said. "The review also found the error in the Kelley case was not an isolated incident and similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations."
The Defense Department has not yet responded to the report of the increase in the names on the banned list but U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Virginia, a former Navy SEAL working on a bill to improve the background check system, said he was encouraged by the increased reporting from the military but he was disappointed that it took them so long to do what is required.
"I'm encouraged that they're trying to hurry up and get through this backlog. But it was a failure of duty and responsibility to not report these people to the federal database. I'm highly disappointed," he said.