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Pentagon IG: Military failed to report 31 percent of convictions that should bar gun ownership

First responders at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas on Nov. 5, 2017. (Edward A. Ornelas/San Antonio Express-News/Zuma Press/TNS)

Thirty-one percent of courts-martial results that should have barred individuals from owning a firearm went unreported to the FBI by the U.S. military services in 2015 and 2016, the Pentagon Inspector General concluded in a report released Tuesday.

Investigators for the Inspector General found 780 convictions of felony-level offenses that were never reported to federal law enforcement officials responsible for maintaining the database used to determine whether individuals can purchase a gun. Additionally, the IG found fingerprints were not submitted to the FBI in 601 of 2,502 cases, the watchdog group wrote in its report.

The Pentagon’s struggles to properly report criminal data to the FBI grabbed national attention last month after the Air Force admitted it had failed to provide information to the FBI about an assault conviction that should have barred former airmen Devin P. Kelley from purchasing the firearm that he used to massacre 26 people inside a Texas church on Nov. 5.

Between January 2015 and December 2016, the Air Force failed to report 14 percent of court-martial convictions and fingerprint cards, the IG found. The other services were worse.

The Army failed to provide conviction information in 41 percent of its cases, according to the IG. The Navy and Marine Corps each failed to submit conviction information in 36 percent of cases.

Similarly, the Army failed to provide fingerprint cards in 28 percent of cases, while the Navy and Marine Corps both failed to provide fingerprints in 29 percent of cases, according to the IG.

The report shows an increase in reporting percentages across the services since 1997, when each of the services failed to provide complete information in more than 50 percent of cases. Nonetheless, the IG is pushing the services to do better, writing in its report that the failures not only allow convicted criminals, such as Kelley, to obtain firearms, but they also “hinder criminal investigations, and potentially impact law enforcement and national security interests.”

“Our report again identified serious deficiencies throughout the [Department of Defense] in reporting criminal history information to the FBI,” said Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general for the Pentagon. “It is critical that the DOD fully implement our recommendations to correct past deficiencies and prevent future lapses in reporting.”

The report on Tuesday was not related to the Kelley case, said Bruce Anderson, a spokesman for the Pentagon IG. It was launched in February and completed weeks before Kelley’s attack in the town of Sutherland Springs, just outside San Antonio.

The Pentagon Inspector General and the Air Force are conducting additional investigations into that case.

Kelley’s 2012 court-martial conviction of assault against his wife and stepson should have barred him from owning any guns, said Heather Wilson, the secretary of the Air Force. Kelley, who died after the attack, was dismissed from the service with a bad conduct discharge and sentenced to one year of confinement for the assault conviction, which was never reported to the FBI.

The Air Force has found “dozens” of similar cases since opening its investigation, Ann Stefanek, a spokeswoman for the service said last week. She said the Air Force has taken “corrective actions” to address the issue.

The other services have also launched investigations into their own reporting practices, officials have said. The IG report stated senior leaders within the services were cooperating with the watchdog’s recommendations to improve reporting to the FBI.

Those recommendations included comprehensive reviews of criminal cases within each service dating back to 1998, increased training on reporting practices, and instituting command, supervisory and management oversight to ensure convictions and fingerprint cards are quickly and properly submitted to the FBI, according to the report.


© 2017 the Stars and Stripes

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