Three major cities in the United States are suing the Pentagon for failing to maintain a criminal history database that prevents convicted criminals from buying weapons — something the authorities are legally required to do but have failed at so far.
In one of the most horrific mass shootings in the U.S. earlier this year, Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed 26 parishioners, including babies.
An investigation into the incident showed the Air Force had court-martialed the shooter a few years ago following a domestic violence conviction for beating his wife and cracking his stepson’s skull. It later emerged the Air Force had failed to enter Kelley’s conviction record into the FBI National Crime Information Center database — a move that would have prevented him from buying the guns he later used to commit the massacre.
After the Air Force conducted a preliminary review, it emerged that what happened with Kelley was not an isolated incident. Officials reportedly failed to report military criminal history of dozens of its service members to the national background check database.
Now, the cities of New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco are suing the Department of Defense for failing to “fulfill their long-standing legal obligation to report all service members disqualified from purchasing and possessing firearms to the FBI’s national background check system.”
“Our three-city coalition will right this two-decade wrong,” Ken Taber, a lead attorney on the case, explained. ”The Executive Branch and Congress have both had their chances to repair this clearly broken system. Now, after 20 years of failure, it’s time for the courts to step in.”
The lawsuit, filed in Alexandria, Virginia, asks for an injunction and judicial oversight to ensure the department submits such records to prevent further tragedies. The law firm behind the complaint believes the military may have failed to report “hundreds, if not thousands” of people to the database.
“This failure on behalf of the Department of Defense has led to the loss of innocent lives by putting guns in the hands of criminals and those who wish to cause immeasurable harm,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement. “New York City is joining Philadelphia and San Francisco to stand up to the Department of Defense and demand they comply with the law and repair their drastically flawed system.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney shared similar sentiments.
“We’re joining in this suit because reporting these records is absolutely critical to those decisions,” he said. “The background check system only works if it contains the proper records.”
Air Force is currently reviewing approximately 60,000 criminal cases to figure out if they were entered in the federal database.
It is heartbreaking to think had it not been for the flaws in the background check system, some of these tragedies could have been prevented.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Jim Young