ECLECTIC RANT: Texas Church Shooter, Domestic Violence and Guns

Ralph E. Stone
Friday November 10, 2017 - 12:30:00 PM

Devin Patrick Kelley, the Texas church shooter, while in the Air Force was convicted at General Court Martial in 2012 on two charges of assault. He was convicted of fracturing his baby stepson's skull and assaulting his first wife. Because of the conviction, Kelley shouldn't have been able to legally own a gun. 

The assault case disqualified Kelley from gun ownership on two separate grounds under federal law. The first was pleading guilty to a crime with a maximum punishment of more than a year’s confinement; the assault on the stepson would have had a maximum sentence of five years. The second ground was pursuant to the Lautenberg Amendment. 

The Air Force acknowledged that 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. 

The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban (often called "the Lautenberg Amendment" after its sponsor, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)) bans access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of domestic violence. The law bans shipment, transport, ownership, and use of guns or ammunition by individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, or who are under a restraining (protection) order for domestic abuse. 

Unfortunately, an online repository of active records maintained by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services shows that the Department of Defense had reported just one case of domestic violence as of Dec. 31, 2016.  

Nationwide, 27 states have passed laws curtailing access to guns by people convicted of domestic violence offenses or subject to protective orders. Unfortunately, of those, only 17 states have laws in place requiring them to relinquish their guns.  

In the U.S., anyone looking to purchase a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer must submit to a background check administered by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Since 1998, the NICS has facilitated over 245 million background checks. Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) are required to administer a background check before they sell a gun. Since 1998, more than 730,000 people have been denied by the NICS for their criminal history. 

However, FFLs are not the only way to purchase a weapon. Private sellers can also sell firearms, which are include online sales, gun shows, and person-to-person purchases. Today, it is unclear how many guns are purchased through these alternate vendors, but estimates may be as high as 40%.  

It is unclear where Kelley purchased the firearms used in the church shooting, but if he had purchased them from a seller not required to check the NICS database, then the Air Force's failure to enter Kelley's conviction into the system would not have prevented the purchase firearms used in the church shooting.  

Why, with these offenses, was Kelley, or anyone else barred from owning a firearm. able to buy one? Because the database is only as good as what goes into it. There is a loophole if the data is not in the system. Obviously, further legislation is needed to close these loopholes. However, I suspect any effort to close the loopholes will face NRA opposition. 


For an excellent discussion of gun violence in America, I highly recommend The Terror of Our Guns by David Cole.