Judge Faults U.S. Air Force for Failing to Use FBI Background Check System

Criminal Background Check

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

A federal judge has found the United States Air Force mostly responsible for a 2017 mass shooting that killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, because it failed to report the criminal history of the shooter to a background check system operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), according to a report from CNN.

“U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez for the Western District of Texas concluded the Air Force failed to exercise reasonable care when it didn’t submit the shooter’s criminal history to the FBI’s background check system, which increased the risk of physical harm to the general public,” CNN (Cable News Network) reported on July 7, 2021.

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was established by the Brady Act of 1993 as a national namecheck system for federal firearms licensees (FFL) to use to determine whether a person can legally buy a firearm. The background check system has blocked over 4 million illegal firearm sales since 1994.

In 2017, the Air Force acknowledged it did not relay the 2012 court martial conviction for domestic assault for Devin Patrick Kelly – the shooter and former Air Force member who died after the shooting – to civilian law enforcement, which could have prevented Kelly from purchasing the firearms that he used in the shooting.

“Moreover, the evidence shows that – had the Government done its job and properly reported Kelley’s information into the background check system – it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting,” the ruling by U.S. District Judge Rodriguez stated.

“For these reasons, the Government bears significant responsibility for the Plaintiffs’ harm,” Judge Rodriguez stated. The court found the government 60 percent responsible and “jointly and severally liable for the damages that may be awarded” in the lawsuit brought by survivors of the shooting and relatives of those killed or injured.

In July 2021, ESR News reported that statistics from the FBI revealed that more than 300,000 illegal firearm sales were blocked by background checks in 2020, the highest number of annual denials ever and almost double the nearly 169,000 denials reported by the FBI in 2019. The denial rate in 2020 was 31 percent higher than in 2019.

In January 2021, ESR News reported that the FBI conducted a record-high 39.7 million firearm background checks for gun purchases in 2020, a 40 percent surge over the previous record total of 28.3 million from 2019, most likely in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to statistics from the NICS.

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