The Air Force failed to flag Devin Kelley as banned from buying the weapons he used to kill 26 people and wound 20 more worshipers at a South Texas church on Sunday, the Air Force acknowledged late Monday.
Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by Air Force officials at Holloman Air Force Base where he had served, Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The Air Force was required to provide the information to the database because Kelley was convicted of domestic assault and under federal law would have been ineligible to purchase a gun legally. A review has been ordered into how the error occurred, Stefanek said.
The Pentagon's Inspector General also launched an investigation to review the Air Force's handling of the records, according to spokesman Mark Wright.
Political pressure is already underway. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., issued a statement Monday night calling for U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis to immediately initiate a full audit of required notifications to the FBI by all military criminal investigative organizations.
“Hearing that the shooter was a former service member with military convictions for domestic violence was even more troubling. However, learning that this senseless act of violence might have been prevented if only the proper form was filled out by military investigators was absolutely devastating,” Gillibrand wrote to Mattis.
She said the audit should review every case for at least the past 10 years in which the military was required to notify the FBI of the outcome.
Kelley had been convicted of assault in a military court in 2012 for fracturing the skull of his young stepson, and the FBI should have barred him from buying the weapons, said Don Christensen, the service's top prosecutor whose office oversaw Kelley's Air Force prosecution. He also was convicted on another count for beating his wife.
The information related to Kelley’s court-martial and the underlying domestic violence offenses were not transmitted by the military to the FBI’s National Instant Check System used to vet prospective gun purchasers, a law enforcement official said Monday.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said authorities had been attempting to reconcile Kelley’s gun purchases with federal law, which prohibits those with criminal records involving misdemeanor domestic violence from obtaining or owning firearms.
Under terms of a 1996 amendment to the Gun Control Act, known as Lautenberg Amendment, gun purchases would be denied to those who have used force or even attempted to use force against a family member.
The conviction should have flagged Kelley as ineligible to buy the weapons, if the FBI had been made aware of it, Christensen said.
"This clearly fell under federal law, without a doubt," Christensen said Monday. "The Air Force is supposed to report the information to FBI. It was possible that it was never reported. It's possible that somebody in the Air Force just blew it."
Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said late Monday that the breakdown exposes “deadly gaps in our system.”
“We thank the Air Force for being forthright and launching an immediate investigation into both this killer’s record and all other Air Force records,” Gardiner said.
The child was born in 2010, and the beatings began a year later, Christensen said. The boy suffered subdural hematoma, bleeding in his brain, from shaking and skull fractures, Christensen said. Kelley offered a partial confession to the charges and entered a plea agreement that capped his sentence at three years.
Kelley was also convicted at court-martial of beating his wife and was jailed for one year. He also received a bad conduct discharge, not the harsher dishonorable discharge, and was busted to the Air Force's lowest rank.
The oversight could have occurred because the military court labeled Kelley's assaults on his wife and stepson in the same category as a bar fight, said Christensen, who is now president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the services. "It's also possible, where we often see, when they do report, the information is not translated from court-martial speak to the civilian world."
The military also has been reluctant to hold troops accountable for domestic abuse, Christensen said.
Kelley used a Ruger AR-15 in the church shooting, purchased last year in San Antonio, and two handguns were found in his vehicle, authorities said.