Every time there’s a mass shooting, predictably the left calls for changes to the nation’s gun laws. But as details of Sunday’s mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, emerge, we are faced with a deeply compelling and disturbing question: why aren’t our current laws being enforced? Why was a man with a documented history of domestic violence able to purchase several firearms?
The Sutherland Springs, Texas shooter Devin Kelley was expressly prohibited from purchasing firearms thanks to the Lautenberg Amendment, a firearms restriction dating back to 1996 designed to prevent domestic abusers from obtaining guns. Even though Kelley was convicted of an assault on his then-wife and young child in 2012 and sentenced to a year in confinement, he lawfully purchased the Ruger assault-style rifle he used against his 26 victims as well as two more guns found in his car after the mass shooting because the Air Force did not report his domestic assault conviction to the FBI’s background check system.
Disturbingly, only one case of domestic violence has been reported by the Department of Defense to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services, according to a review of an online repository of active records. Another category which results in an automatic gun ban under the law are those who receive a dishonorable discharge. Only a few hundred military cases per year result in dishonorable discharge, however. Kelley received a “bad conduct” discharge.
This woeful failing of the system is being blamed essentially on differences in terminology, because the military has “no distinct charge for domestic violence,” said Grover Baxley, a former judge advocate general who spoke to The Trace. In the case of Kelley, he was convicted of assault.
A large percentage of mass shooters and other violent crimes have been convicted of that woeful misnomer “domestic violence.” “Mass shootings are domestic violence events much more commonly than the public believes,” Garen Wintemute, who heads the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, told BuzzFeed News in an email. Indeed, Kelley’s attack on First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs was connected to a “domestic situation” with his mother-in-law who regularly attended the church, according to authorities.
Lawmakers formally acknowledged this warning sign when they passed the Lautenberg amendment. Yet the DOD, which has 1.2 million active service members, has only reported one case to NICS as of December 31, 2016. States with equivalent populations, like New Hampshire, have filed almost 14,000 cases. Clearly, someone who’s convicted of an assault on a family member shouldn’t escape consequences merely because their crime is called an “assault” and not “domestic violence;” or because they were prosecuted by a branch of the military instead of by a state.
Where is the enforcement mechanism in this law?
The Air Force “on Monday acknowledged that Mr. Kelley’s domestic violence offense, clearly one that should have made him ineligible for a firearm, had not been entered into the National Criminal Information Center database,” reported the New York Times. “It pledged to conduct a sweeping review of all cases to determine if they had been properly reported.”
Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. A “sweeping review” is another term for an internal investigation, which will probably turn out a long report a year from now.
It is impossible for the media, the public, or lawmakers to make a judgment on whether our laws need to be changed when the ones we have are not being enforced. The DOD’s failure to report almost anyone to NICS is a serious problem that has already reaped incredibly serious consequences. The public deserves to know why this happened as well as who is being held accountable to make sure that this never happens again.