The Air Force launched a review Monday after admitting that it had blundered by failing to submit Devin Patrick Kelley’s criminal history to the FBI background check system, thus providing ammunition to both sides of the gun control debate.
On the one hand, gun control advocates called for closing loopholes and tightening background checks in the aftermath of the mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 dead and 20 wounded.
On the other hand, Second Amendment supporters argued that the Air Force’s mistake comes as another example of gun control measures failing to stop mass shootings, even as a former National Rifle Association instructor was able to stop Kelley.
“No amount of top-down gun control is going to stop a determined killer — whether it’s from human error or from killers stealing their weapons,” said Gun Owners of America spokesman Jordan Stein. “The Sandy Hook shooter in Connecticut stole his AR-15. So did the Clackamas mall shooter in Oregon.”
Mr. Stein added, “What actually stops an evil psychopath is what we saw on Sunday — a good guy with a gun.”
The Air Force announced it would undertake a “comprehensive review” of its handling of criminal records after discovering that Holloman Air Force Base officials failed to report to the federal database Kelley’s 2012 court-martial and conviction on two counts of domestic assault.
SEE ALSO: Kirsten Gillibrand: Pentagon must report more to gun background check system
The now-deceased 26-year-old gunman was able to obtain multiple firearms legally after passing background checks despite his history of abusing his ex-wife and stepson, which resulted in a 12-month sentence after he pleaded guilty.
“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Hollomon Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations,” the USAF said in a statement.
USAF spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein directed the Air Force office of the inspector general to conduct the review.
“The Service will also conduct a comprehensive review of Air Force databases to ensure records in other cases have been reported correctly,” said the statement. “The Air Force has also requested that the Department of Defense Inspector General review records and procedures across the Department of Defense.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called Monday for increasing security at churches or encouraging qualified parishioners to carry firearms.
“It’s going to happen again, and so we need people in churches — professional security or at least arming some of the parishioners or the congregation so they can respond when something like this happens again,” Mr. Paxton told Fox News.
SEE ALSO: Greg Abbott pushes back on gun restrictions, instead advocates working with God
Shannon Watts, president of Moms Demand Action, said the reporting system needs improvements. She argued that the “background checks system is only as good as the records in it; any missing record can enable a tragedy, as in this case.”
“That’s why we work to close loopholes, and fight @NRA agenda to make it easier for domestic abusers and violent criminals to get guns,” Ms. Watts said on Twitter.
A prominent senator demanded that the Pentagon go back and review all its disciplinary records and update the gun background check system.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand said the Defense Department needs to familiarize itself with what records it’s required to turn over, then go look back through the last decade’s worth of investigations and cases to see who should be listed but isn’t.
“If this can happen in one case, it could happen in others,” the New York Democrat said in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Authorities said Kelley had purchased four firearms — one per year in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 — while Academy Sports & Outdoors said he bought two guns from its two San Antonio locations in 2016 and 2017.
“Based on information we received from law enforcement, we confirmed that the suspect purchased two firearms from two San Antonio locations, one in 2016 and one in 2017,” said a company statement. “We also confirmed that both sales were approved by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. We are cooperating with law enforcement as they investigate further.”
One of the weapons, a Ruger AR-556 rifle, was used in the attack on the church.
Kelley left the military in 2014 after receiving a “bad conduct discharge.”
Those convicted of domestic violence or receiving a dishonorable discharge from the military — which is not the same as a bad conduct discharge — are prohibited under federal law from purchasing firearms.
Kelley, who lived in nearby New Braunfels, was involved in a domestic dispute with his mother-in-law, a regular First Baptist attendee who was not among the victims, according to Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin.
“We can tell you that there was a domestic situation going on within his family,” said Mr. Martin at a press conference. “The suspect’s mother-in-law attended this church. We know she had received threatening texts from him.”
But the hero Sunday — Stephen Willeford, a plumber and former NRA instructor — told 40/29 News that he grabbed his rifle and ran to the church after hearing shots, firing at the suspect as he exited and hitting him twice.
“I think my God, my Lord, protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done, and I just wish I could have gotten there faster,” Mr. Willeford said.
The gunman fled in his Ford Expedition, chased by Mr. Willeford and another man, but veered off the road a short time later. Authorities said he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Those killed ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years, while the injured ranged from 5 to 73, Mr. Martin said at a press conference.
Sherri Pomeroy, wife of the First Baptist Church pastor, lost her 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, in the shooting but said that “one thing that gives me a sliver of encouragement is the fact that Belle was surrounded yesterday by her church family who she loved fiercely, and vice versa.”
The Pomeroy parents were out of town during the shooting.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.