In the wake of the deadly Texas church shooting last weekend, the U.S. Air Force has come under scrutiny for not reporting former Airman Devin Patrick Kelley’s assault charges to the FBI. The Air Force Inspector General and Department of Defense Inspector General have launched investigations into the case.
While there has been speculation that the military court did not properly “label” Kelley’s domestic assault charge, thus seemingly allowing it to slip through the cracks, that is not the case.
The military court system differs from the civilian court system, and every case in military court is treated individually, according to Col. Ralph J. Capio, U.S. Air Force (retired), a former Air Force judge advocate (JAG).
Capio told American Military News that each military court case is treated differently given the circumstances, but that no military court case is ever “lumped” into a specific category.
It had been reported that the Air Force documented Kelley’s case as assault, rather than the actual charge of domestic assault, and that this “loophole” is how Kelley ended up skirting the FBI’s system. It had also been reported that there is no specific offense for domestic violence or domestic abuse under military law, which is why it might have been labeled as assault.
Capio says that isn’t true – there is no “loophole” – and that the reason Kelley wasn’t entered into the FBI’s system was purely administrative.
Kelley shot up a church in Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5 and killed 26 people. He was found dead in his vehicle after leaving the scene, reportedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Kelley had also been shot twice by an armed civilian as he fled the church.
Kelley was a former Air Force E1 from 2010 to 2014. He received a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force after being court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child. He was also sentenced to 12 months confinement and two reductions in rank to basic airman.
The Air Force had failed to send Kelley’s conviction record and criminal history to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s background-check system, known as NICS (the National Instant Criminal Background Check System), following his court martial. This is likely what allowed Kelley the ability to purchase a firearm.
Since his discharge was for “bad conduct” and was not a “dishonorable” discharge, Kelley was still able to buy firearms legally. Under U.S. Code, dishonorably discharged military personnel are not allowed to legally purchase a firearm, and this is documented on the ATF’s website.
While someone being discharged from the military for “bad conduct” can still purchase firearms, since Kelley was convicted of domestic assault, he should not have been able to purchase a gun. The Lautenberg Amendment from the 1997 gun bill, which is now law, says that anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor is not able to own or purchase a firearm.
However, since Kelley did not make it into the FBI’s system, his background check cleared.
The 26-year-old shooting suspect who killed 26 people and injured 20 others had been denied a gun license from that state, the governor there said this week.
Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday morning wearing all black, and he started firing. On his way out of the church, the suspect dropped his rifle and fled after being confronted by a local man who had grabbed his rifle.
Kelley was found a short while later, roughly five miles away, dead in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, having crashed his car.
Kelley was wearing tactical gear and used an AR-15 gun.
This is the largest mass shooting in Texas’ history.
The shooting took place at 11:30 a.m. local time at the First Baptist Church at 216 4th Street in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sutherland Springs is roughly 35 miles outside of San Antonio and has a population of less than 500 people.
Victims were taken to Connally’s Memorial Hospital. Twenty-three people were killed inside the church, two people were killed outside the church and another succumbed to injuries. The victims ranged in age from 5 years old and up.
This shooting comes on the eight-year anniversary of the Fort Hood shooting, when Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 at the Fort Hood U.S. Army base; 30 others were injured in the 2009 shooting. Sutherland Springs is 150 miles from Fort Hood.