Air Force error cleared way for church shooting suspect to buy guns

Monday, November 06, 2017 06:53PM
An ABC13 Investigation shows portions of Texas gun laws cannot be enforced.


SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas - The US Air Force has launched a review to discover why Air Force security officials neglected to enter Devin Kelley's court-martial convictions in a gun control database. The error likely allowed Kelley to purchase the firearms he allegedly used in Sunday's killings.

Kelley was convicted of assault on his spouse and a child in 2012 in a court-martial proceeding at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. He was sentenced to a year in military prison. Air Force regulations direct military security officials to report such convictions. If that had been done, Kelley would have failed his background checks.

Law enforcement says Kelley passed at least four background checks in the last three years, including once in 2016 and again in 2017 at San Antonio-area Academy Sports + Outdoors stores.

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On Monday, an Academy spokesperson expressed sympathy for victims and told ABC News, "We ... confirmed that both sales were approved by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). We are cooperating with law enforcement as they investigate further."

An ABC13 investigation reveals federal and Texas laws prohibit people convicted of domestic violence from buying firearms, but there is no way to enforce the provisions.

Federal law says, " It shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to ... possess any firearm." Texas law is virtually the same but adds a five-year time limit from the last date of confinement. Both should have prohibited Kelley from possessing firearms.

Despite clarity in the law, our investigation found there is no enforcement mechanism for it. Harris County judges inform defendants who are pleading guilty of the provision but don't insist defendants surrender any weapons or prove they no longer possess them.

VIDEO: What we know about Texas church shooting suspect
Everything we know about Texas church shooting suspect


We could not find law enforcement agencies that regularly enforce the provision, and a domestic violence advocate tells ABC13 she doesn't either.

Amy Smith of the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council told ABC13, "As of right now, they can voluntarily surrender their guns," adding that, to her knowledge, no one is checking to see that it's done. "It puts victims and society at danger. The incident yesterday shows there are innocent people killed as a result of the law not being followed. Regardless of what laws we have, it's how we enforce them that is the problem."

Smith pointed to a Dallas gun surrender policy that does enforce this section of Texas law. Although it has been in place since 2015, it only produced 60 surrendered firearms, according to an academic study released in May. Policymakers expected hundreds; Smith says the policy allows guns to be turned over to a friend or relative.

Smith says the Coordinating Council is close to finalizing a similar surrender policy with Harris County law enforcement agencies.

Do you have a story tip, idea or question for Ted Oberg Investigates? Let us know, at abc13.com/tedstips

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