Texas shooting: Gun laws aren't the problem, government incompetence is

In the wake of a Baptist church shooting that left 26 people dead Sunday, Democratic politicians and pundits once again took to social media and cable news to denounce those who they deem to be the true monsters in the entire situation –  National Rifle Association members and Christians offering thoughts and prayers.

The NRA was denounced a “terrorist organization” that was “drenched in the blood” of the victims of gun violence.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. – who looks like a pining presidential candidate – was of course out front in a rush to the microphones. He demanded that we all do “something,” without ever actually disclosing what that something might be. Apparently, what he really wants is confiscation of firearms from law-abiding Americans, who are now once again facing media backlash for a crime they had nothing to do with.

But as was revealed Sunday, in what is becoming a common theme in these mass shootings, no amount of background checking would have stopped the shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas from purchasing his firearms, because the federal government failed to do it’s job properly. It’s not the first time.

If federal employees cannot perform the simplest of tasks of enforcing laws already on the books meant to keep people safe, then those employees need to be released and their agencies eliminated.

While serving in the U.S. Air Force, shooter Devin Patrick Kelley was convicted of domestic assault against his wife. He pleaded guilty to multiple charges stemming from incidents including physically striking his wife and choking and kicking her. He also pleaded guilty to assaulting his stepson, severely enough to crack the young child’s skull.

Kelley’s court-martial conviction should have disqualified him immediately from purchasing any kind of firearms. So what happened? The Associated Press reported:

“Under Pentagon rules, information about convictions of military personnel in crimes like assault is supposed to be submitted to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Investigation Services Division for inclusion in the National Criminal Information Center database. For unspecified reasons, the Air Force did not provide the information about Kelley as required.”

The AP report continued: “Acknowledging its mistake, the Air Force said in a written statement that the top two Air Force officials – Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein – have ordered a review of the Kelley case by the Air Force Office of the Inspector General.”

Because of a law passed in 1996, it’s illegal for anyone convicted a domestic abuse crime to purchase a firearm, something some of our dutiful lawmakers in Congress seem to not be aware of.

Because Kelley’s court records were never submitted the FBI database, Kelley sailed through several background checks and purchased up to four known firearms. Great work, guys.

This also appears to not just be a bad slip in judgment but a systematic problem. The Trace reported: “… the military has no distinct charge for domestic violence, notes Grover Baxley, a former judge advocate general who now practices military law as a civilian. ‘We see this all the time,’ Baxley said. ‘There is no specific domestic violence article.” Instead, military prosecutors charge abusers with other offenses, like assault. A scan of active records shows that the Department of Defense has just a single misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence on file with the National Criminal Instant Background Check System, or NICS.”

A chart accompanying the report shows a startling statistic. The military has submitted “zero records for members subject to domestic violence restraining orders” to federal authorities. This isn’t one or two bad apples falling through the cracks. This is a tree shaking them all to the ground.

But even when the FBI has all the data needed to flag someone from purchasing a gun, there have been examples of gross incompetence as well.

Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people during evening services at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. 

Roof was not legally permitted to own a firearm due to an unlawful drug possession charge from earlier that year. Roof’s record listed the wrong arresting agency and because of this error, he was able to legally purchase the weapon he used in the shooting. Victims of family members killed by Roof have filed suit against the U.S. government because of this avoidable error.

Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and then committed suicide at the school in 2007, was under years of mental health observation. In 2005 he was accused of harassing female students and ordered by a court-appointed special justice, who declared him mentally ill, to attend treatment.

The justice declared that Cho “presents an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.” Because Cho was never actually institutionalized, his state records were never sent to the FBI database, and he was able to purchase his weapons. Families of the victims settled with  Virginia for $11 million in damages over the lapse.

A 2012 report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns found similar lapses in the background check system. As NPR reported: “The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined why states aren't submitting records in a July report. Some cited bureaucratic barriers, others technical ones, like switching from paper-based to computer systems. And some states contend it violates their laws to forward mental health records to the federal database. A few states are changing their laws.”

It should not matter if these incidences are occurring because of a political correctness stigma around mental health, or just dumb laziness. If federal employees cannot perform the simplest of tasks of enforcing laws already on the books meant to keep people safe, then those employees need to be released and their agencies eliminated.

The National Rifle Association and lawful gun owners are not involved in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. During the shooting in Texas, a former NRA instructor was instrumental in stopping Kelley’s rampage – a rampage that could have been prevented had our government not been asleep at the wheel again. But sure, let’s turn over our health care to the government now.

If our government cannot perform simple tasks like filling our criminal record forms and entering information into databases, then why in the world would we burden federal employees with new gun laws that do nothing but restrict the constitutional rights of citizens and vendors in full compliance with the law?

Start with enforcing the federal laws on the books before attempting one of those “conversations” about curtailing rights. When our government gets that right, then we can have a larger discussion about the Second Amendment.

Stephen L. Miller has written for Heat Street and National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter at @redsteeze.