The three Bay Area members of the House Armed Services Committee say the military must do a better job of reporting criminal histories of service members after the Air Force’s failure to do so left the gunman in last week’s Texas mass shooting off a federal background-check database.
Devin Kelley, the former airman who killed 26 people and injured about two dozen more in Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, was able to buy weapons despite the fact he had been convicted of assaulting his wife and infant stepson. The purchases reportedly include the semiautomatic rifle Kelley used in the massacre.
The Air Force was supposed to report Kelley’s conviction to the National Crime Information Center, a database run by the FBI.
The lapse drew strong criticism from Reps. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, Ro Khanna, D-Fremont, and John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, who say Congress needs to demand the military coordinate better with the FBI.
“It seems incomprehensible why we wouldn’t have the sharing of basic histories,” Khanna said in an interview. “When someone is a clear security risk, I think it’s important that law enforcement at least be aware of that.”
In the days after the shooting, reports emerged that the Defense Department has reported few domestic violence convictions and mental health reports to the FBI.
“This is a systemic problem. It occurs all across the military,” Garamendi said in an interview. “It turns out it’s not just an Air Force problem. It’s an Army problem, Navy problem … all of the services,” Garamendi said. “That has to change.”
Garamendi and Khanna say they were unaware before the church shooting that the military has done a poor job of entering criminal convictions into the database — particularly those involving domestic violence. The San Antonio Express-News reported last week that at the end of 2016, the database included just one domestic violence conviction relayed from the Defense Department.
Speier said the disclosures do not surprise her.
“It’s widespread throughout the services. It’s particularly disturbing,” Speier said.
A high percentage of service members convicted of crimes or diagnosed with a mental illness that bar a civilian from buying a gun are not reported to the FBI’s database, Garamendi said. He said he’s confident the military can share criminal history records and that a new law isn’t needed to push the armed services into action.
Khanna said he’s hopeful the Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the issue before the end of the year and added that legislation to correct the problem could be introduced early in 2018.
The lapse in the Kelley case has prompted the Department of Defense Inspector General to investigate broader issues in the way the military communicates with the FBI about the criminal records of service members. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, says he has directed the panel’s staff to work closely with the Inspector General.
“News that the Air Force failed to notify the FBI of Devin Kelly’s military criminal record is appalling,” Thornberry said in a statement last week.