According to a statement released by the Air Force, it was a clerical error that prevented Devin P. Kelley’s domestic assault conviction from being entered into the federal database that would have barred his purchase of the firearm he used to end the lives of 26 people at a Baptist church on Sunday.
In 2012, Kelley was convicted of two charges of assault in a military court-martial, under article 128 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Those two charges, one each for his wife and step-child at the time, stemmed from an incident in which Kelley reportedly cracked the young child’s skull. He was sentenced to one year of confinement for his actions, was reduced in rank and received a bad conduct discharge. It Is important to note that a bad conduct discharge is not a dishonorable discharge, as has been repeatedly reported in multiple outlets.
Although a bad conduct discharge alone does not bar a U.S. citizen from purchasing a firearm, domestic assault charges should.
“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. “The Air Force has launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P. Kelley following his 2012 domestic violence conviction.”
The issue may potentially be a semantic one. While domestic violence convictions should prevent someone from purchasing a firearm, Article 128 of the UCMJ pertains to assault in a general sense. It’s certainly possible that the conviction was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database because the clerk or clerks responsible did not recognize it as a domestic assault.
Other details relating to the incident itself surfaced on Monday, including a possible motive behind the carnage. Kelley was estranged from his current wife leading up to the incident, and his mother-in-law reportedly attends service at the church he attacked.
“This was not racially motivated. It wasn’t over religious beliefs. It was a domestic situation going on,” Freeman Martin, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference on Monday. “The suspect’s mother-in-law attended this church. We know that he had made threatening texts.”
At least a dozen children were among the 26 people killed in Kelley’s rampage, including one that was only 18 months old. A woman who was five months pregnant was also among the dead.
According to law enforcement, Kelley wore a tactical vest, all black clothing and a skull mask when he entered the church carrying a modified Ruger AR-556. The semi-automatic rifle platform is often at the center of gun debates, though until recently the AR-15 was not commonly employed in mass shootings. This attack in Texas, as well as the horrific killing of 58 people in Las Vegas last month, have reinvigorated debate among politicians and everyday citizens about the weapon platform.
Kelley reportedly dropped his AR-556 when he was engaged by Stephen Willeford, a civilian with a rifle, as he left the church. According to the autopsy, Willeford hit Kelley twice, once in the leg and once in the torso, before Kelley managed to enter his vehicle and flee the scene. Willeford then enlisted the aid of a nearby motorist, Johnnie Langendorff, to chase Kelley for nearly 11 miles before Kelley took his own life with one of the other firearms he had in his vehicle.
According to law enforcement, 10 of the 20 people injured in Sunday’s shooting remain in critical condition.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press.