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Military added 4,000 veterans to gun ban list after Texas church shooting

guns
For decades, the background check system has been undermined by failures by local, state and federal agencies to submit proper records. Photograph: Julie Jacobson/AP

In the weeks after a US air force veteran murdered 26 people with a gun he should not have been able to buy, thousands of records that barred dishonorably discharged service members from buying guns were suddenly added to the country’s background check system.

Officials quietly added more than 4,000 dishonorable discharge records to the system over the three months since 5 November 2017, during the course of an investigation by the air force and the Department of Defense’s inspector general. The investigation centers on the air force’s failure to report a domestic violence conviction that should have barred Devin Kelley, an air force veteran, from buying the rifle he used to kill dozens of people and injure dozens more at a tiny church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The spike in additional records, first reported by CNN, raises questions about whether errors in military reporting allowed thousands of dangerous or unstable people to buy guns – an error that may be impossible to correct. United States gun laws carefully protect the privacy of most gun sales, making it extremely difficult to track, much less rescind, sales of firearms to people who are not supposed to have them.

Branches of the US armed forces, citing pending litigation against them, have refused to comment on which branches of the military were responsible for the sudden surge in record submissions in November. They also declined to say which branches may have failed to submit them in the first place. A spokesman for the office of the secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, declined to comment, as did spokespeople for the air force and the army.

The FBI, which runs the US background check system, “does not speculate on changes in statistics”, a spokesman, Stephen G Fischer, said when asked about the increase in records added.

“We don’t know how many of these people have already purchased guns,” said Lindsay Nichols, the federal policy director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates for stricter gun laws. “There’s no way to find that out. There simply isn’t.

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“Why did it take this horrible tragedy for them to do this verification?” she asked.

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would demand more public transparency of record-keeping and stipulate penalties if the armed services failed to comply with record-reporting law.

“A broken background check system puts weapons in the hands of dangerous people, and as we saw in Texas, that costs lives,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “I’m glad the Pentagon is trying to right past wrongs, but this is totally insufficient.”

Military officials admitted in the wake of the Sutherland Springs shooting that there were failures in reporting records to the background check system. But the Department of Defense and the FBI have yet to provide any specifics on the scale of the the military’s failure.

In late November, an air force spokesman said that the investigation following the Sutherland Springs shooting had already resulted in “several dozen” cases being flagged and added to the background check system.

But archived copies of the FBI’s website, accessed through the Internet Archive, show a much greater increase in dishonorable discharge records alone, with a sudden spike in the number of dishonorable discharge records in November, and continued increases through January.

While other countries treat gun ownership as a privilege that citizens must work hard to obtain, views in the United States have shifted to increasingly treat individual gun ownership as a constitutional right. Federal law imposes only minor hurdles before citizens can buy a gun from a licensed dealer; one such hurdle is that buyers must pass a background check ensuring that they are not listed in a federal database of people disqualified by law from owning a gun.

But for decades, the background check system has been undermined by failures by local, state and federal agencies to submit proper records, including failures to submit mental health records. Internal reports also flagged major failures in the military’s process of reporting disqualifying records to that background check system.

This article titled "Military added 4,000 veterans to gun ban list after Texas church shooting" was written by Lois Beckett, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13 February 2018 01.00pm

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