Early Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire on a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing over 26 individuals (the youngest of which was only 18 months old). The shooting rocked the country, plunging millions of Americans into insurmountable grief. Perhaps it’s the fact that it occurred at a place of worship, or the fact that over half of the victims were children, or maybe it’s just the idea of such a staggering loss of life, but it goes without saying that this shooting has deeply affected everyone who has heard about it. For some, it is reminiscent of the pain felt after the Sandy Hook shooting, or the shock after the Charleston church shooting. The fact that this unspeakably abhorrent event is so eerily similar to others paints a dismal outlook of our future. It also begs a heavy question: could this have been avoided?
The answer, unfortunately, could be “yes”. Kelley should have been unable to purchase a firearm/body armor due to a domestic violence conviction in 2014 while he served at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Kelley’s track list also includes being sentenced to a year in prison, kicked out of the military with a bad conduct discharge, and two counts of domestic abuse against his wife and a child, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.
“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database,” she adds.
This signifies that Air Force officials failed to follow Pentagon guidelines that would have prevented him from purchasing firepower from retailer Academy Sports. Academy Sports also reports that Kelley passed a background check both this year and last. However, it is unclear at the time whether the weapons purchased by Kelley from Academy Sports were indeed the ones he used in the shooting. Moreover, Kelley worked as a night security guard at a Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels, where he was able to pass a Texas Department of Public Safety criminal background check beforehand.
Some reports are even indicating that the reason for this mistake was because of confusion within the Air Force, where some believe that protocol includes only reporting violent crimes that result in dishonorable discharges (which are considerably worse than the bad conduct discharge given to Kelley).
But had protocol been clear and had Kelley’s proper track record been uploaded to the National Criminal Information Center database, it is evident that Kelley would not have been able to legally purchase his firearms or his body armor. Of course, it could be speculated that Kelley could have been able to obtain the firearms illegally instead. However, the fact of the matter is that Kelley was able to purchase guns legally whilst having a record as a violent criminal offender. Kelley’s charges slipped through the cracks, which essentially left him unrestricted — defeating the purpose of a violent offender label at all. Responsibility needs to be taken by the Air Force and any branch of military that could also see themselves making this mistake.
Photo: Jay Janner / AP