In November 2017, an ex U.S. Air Force airman shot more than 20 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Years earlier, he had been convicted, in a military court, for various violent crimes related to assaulting his wife, convictions that should have disqualified the shooter from being able to buy a firearm.
As the shooting was investigated, it became clear that the U.S. Air Force failed to inform the federal government of the conviction of the airman, who had been convicted of beating his wife (among other things). Now, the Department of Defense, in the three months since has added 4,000 names left off the federal background checklist, which is used to disqualify those who cannot own firearms under federal law.
The exact number of names added since the November shooting is 4,284.
These 4,284 dishonorably discharged soldiers represent a 38% jump in the total number of dishonorably discharged people reported to the FBI’s background check system (which is used to buy firearms from dealers).
Those 4,284 recent additions do not include former troops reported to the NICS system for other violations, such as convictions in military courts. Those are ONLY the dishonorable discharges added since the Sutherland Springs shooting.
The number of dishonorably discharged individuals on the NICS background check list remained around 11,000 for years, but in November 2017, it suddenly jumped to 14,825 names.
In December 2017, the number was 15,583.
According to the various different branches of the military, they combed through their records to ensure they had properly reported names of members to NICS as appropriate.
The Air Force, under intense scrutiny after the Sutherland Springs shooting in which the shooter bought firearms legally, looked through their cases dating back to 2002, according to the Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.
A Marine spokesman, Captain Christopher R. Harrison, said that the USMC was hard at work to implement changes that would “increase the speed and efficacy of reporting” to NICS and the federal government.
The United States Navy reported that they were in the midst of reviewing cases dating back to 1998 as part of an unrelated Department of Defense Inspector General’s report.
The United States Army declined to comment, saying it would be “inappropriate” to do so. They cited an ongoing lawsuit concerning reporting failures.
The Coast Guard told reporters that its numbers were always reported on time (which makes sense, as the Coast Guard has a whopping 55,000 members). They also stated that they had no dishonorable discharges in November or December.
To be fair to the Air Force, the Sutherland Springs shooter was not dishonorably discharged. He received a bad conduct discharge, which is slightly different and does not carry the same legal connotation.
However, the shooter WAS convicted of assaulting his wife in a military court, and experts claim that this conviction should have been reported to NICS.
Violent misdemeanor convictions are usually grounds for rejection of a firearm sale. Had the Sutherland Springs shooter’s conviction(s) been properly reported, he might have had a much harder time purchasing a firearm.
The Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General is performing an ongoing review of how, exactly, the Sutherland Springs shooter’s file managed to never be processed properly and in accordance with policy.
Results have not yet answered those most important questions.
In 1997, a Pentagon Inspector General report noted that the United States military, mirroring many other organizations, was often failing to properly report convictions and dishonorable discharges to the FBI.
According to the report, the U.S. Navy failed to properly alert the FBI of convictions and dishonorable discharges 93 percent of the time.
The Army failed an astonishing 79 percent of the time.
A similar report in 2017 (prior to the shooting) showed that the United States military, as a whole, failed to report 31 percent of convictions and dishonorable discharges to the FBI.
However, it is not only the United States military that fails to properly report the felony and violent misdemeanor convictions to the FBI.
NICS reporting rates have long been hit-or-miss with various cities, towns, and states across the United States. Some localities outright refused to report people adjudicated mentally defective, for example, a move which the ACLU backed.
Other localities lag by months or even years between a conviction and a report to NICS, allowing criminals plenty of time to attain a legal firearm.
Democrats and leftists often harp on the idea of ‘extended’ background checks. Such ‘extended’ background checks don’t help much if local bureaucrats do not properly report to the FBI in the first place.
Hopefully, the Department of Defense’s Inspector General(s) will get to the root of the issue, and the military will take the lessons of the Sutherland Springs shooting to heart.
Otherwise, we may see another similar shooting in the future, much to the chagrin of Americans everywhere.