The Air Force is requiring higher levels of review before criminal cases are closed in order to ensure required disclosures are reported to the federal gun background-check database, Secretary Heather Wilson told Senate lawmakers Wednesday.
The new steps come after the Air Force failed to report the criminal background of a former airman to federal authorities, a disclosure that would have prevented him from purchasing firearms before he fatally shot 26 people last month inside a Texas church.
Multiple levels of command now have to confirm that required disclosures have been made to the background check system in all reported incidents, Ms. Wilson said.
“We have added steps to our case management process so that there are checks in the system as cases are closed and archived not only at the local office, but at higher levels of command,” the Air Force secretary told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “In addition, case officers not only must submit fingerprints, they must check the FBI database to ensure that the records have been received and properly recorded by the FBI.”
She also told lawmakers it could take up to five months to complete a review of 60,000 cases in which service members potentially should have been reported to the federal gun background-check database. An initial review of cases the cases, which date back to 2002, found several dozen instances records were not properly relayed to the appropriate federal databases.
The now deceased Texas gunman, Devin Kelley, was able to obtain multiple firearms legally after passing background checks despite a history of abusing his ex-wife and stepson during his time in the Air Force. He served a 12-month sentence in the brig after he pleaded guilty, a conviction that should have gotten him flagged in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and prevented him from buying a gun from a licensed dealer. But the Air Force didn’t report his conviction.
Once a final report on the the Kelly incident is completed by the Air Force, Ms. Wilson said a decision “about any accountability or disciplinary action” will be made. On Wednesday, she declined to discuss the status of the investigation.
During Wednesday hearing, lawmakers expressed apprehension about passing new laws in a reaction to the massacre if current laws that should have prevented it went unenforced.
“Before we pass new laws, we should make sure that our current laws are being effectively followed and enforced,” said committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican. “We should also make sure that existing programs designed to ensure NICS reporting compliance are fully funded and effectively run.”
Ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein asked why there appeared to be a problem ensuring domestic violence records were submitted to the background check system.
Douglas Lindquist, the assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, said federal authorities are often given incomplete records that hamper their ability to enter the information into the background check system.
“We have to have in the record ready for our examiners to go through, it has to be an act of violence or threat of act of violence, there has to be a relationship established in the record for us to process that, and it has to be a misdemeanor,” he said.
Mr. Lindquist said the FBI does work to try and educate both the military and state agencies that submit records that they need all those details in order to process the information.
The Inspector General of the Department of Defense, who also testified at Wednesday’s hearing, highlighted the concern the internal watchdog has previously flagged about significant issues with military service submission of criminal history records to the background check system.
“We made recommendation to the services and it’s quite clear that the services did not take appropriate action to follow up on those recommendations,” said DOD Inspector General Glenn Fine.
A report issued Tuesday indicates that fingerprint and final disposition records were not properly submitted in approximately a quarter of cases handled between 2015 and 2016. Out of 2,502 cases, fingerprint cards were not submitted in 601 cases and final disposition reports were not submitted in 780 cases.