How Did The Sutherland Springs Shooter Clear Background Checks Before Buying Guns?

The massacre is raising questions about how domestic violence convictions are reported.


By Alain StephensNovember 8, 2017 12:07 pm

In the wake of the Sutherland Springs shooting, lawmakers, law enforcement, and the public want to know how the shooter, Devin Kelley, with his background, got his hands on a gun.

Senator John Cornyn, along with other lawmakers, are introducing legislation specifically targeting the military’s system of reporting domestic violence cases. But aren’t domestic violence convictions already a disqualifier when it comes to gun purchases?

Texas Standard Investigative Reporter Alain Stephens says that Kelley was able to clear the background check.

Academy Sports & Outdoors came out and said that [Kelley] bought a gun in 2016, a gun in 2017, and they ran him, and he came back clear,” Stephens says. “And what we come to find out is this background check, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, it takes information about an individual’s background from these three sources – from the National Criminal Information Center, known as NCIC, from the Interstate Identification Index (III), or from this NICS database maintained by the FBI. He didn’t have any disqualifying background that was logged in any of these systems, and the Air Force would later come out and say that they made a mistake, that they failed to put his background into one of these.”

He says the Department of Defense submits disqualifying factors, like domestic violence convictions, on a monthly basis for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. In the last two months, Stephens says, “They have thousands of dishonorable discharges, two mental health entries, and one felony conviction. They did not say that in the last two months they had any domestic violence convictions that were submitted into their background check system.”

Stephens says the military has 1.2 million active service members, so it’s likely that there have in fact been domestic violence convictions over that time.

“We know that this is a problem for the military,” he says. “Actually, on the U.S. Army’s website, there is a form talking about how the domestic violence offender gun ban – or commonly referred to as the Lautenberg amendment – may affect servicemembers within their official capacities.”

He says last year the Office of the Inspector General audited the NICS system and found that, when it works, it’s 99% accurate.

“But here’s the thing,” Stephens says. “For you to run a background check and have it be successful, you have to have a background to check it against. If those records aren’t in there, it’s not going to flag.”

Written by Jen Rice.