Earlier this week, it was revealed that Devin P. Kelley, the gunman that killed 26 people inside a Baptist Church in Texas on Sunday, should have been legally barred from purchasing firearms due to multiple domestic assault convictions levied by Air Force court-martial. The troubled Airman reportedly fractured the skull of his toddler step-son and physically abused his wife, leading to one year in confinement and a Bad Conduct Discharge from the service.
The Air Force has already acknowledged the likelihood that the fault is on them for failing to report his convictions to the federal database used in firearm purchase background checks, but new information surfaced on Tuesday that indicates a far more dramatic failure than previously indicated.
According to a 2012 police report, Kelley once escaped a psychiatric hospital while serving in the Air Force, only to be apprehended by local law enforcement a few miles away. After taking Kelley into custody, the arresting officers were reportedly told that he had made a series of death threats against members of his direct chain of command, and had even been caught trying to smuggle weapons onto base.
The El Paso Police Department report, dated June of 2012, states that Kelley, then 21, was found at a bus station in downtown El Paso as he attempted to flee the city. Up until that point, he had been under the care of Peak Behavioral Health Services, a hospital located in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, just a few miles away. The treatment and escape both occurred prior to the assault convictions that would ultimately lead to his discharge.
The hospital staff reportedly informed officers at the time that Kelley “suffered from mental disorders,” and that he “was attempting to carry out death threats” against “his military chain of command.”
Not only should Kelley have been listed ineligible for a firearm purchase in the federal database as a result of his domestic assault convictions, but his continued eligibility due to Air Force oversight also led to violations of federal and state statutes regarding mental disorders.
The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits the sale of a firearm to any person who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to any mental institution.” Similarly, the state of Texas, where Kelley purchased two of his firearms, further bars the sale of firearms to those who have been diagnosed with any psychiatric condition “that causes or is likely to cause substantial impairment in judgment, mood, perception, impulse control, or intellectual ability.” Among the qualifying factors for that determination is an “involuntary psychiatric hospitalization.”
A number of other red flags have also surfaced regarding Kelley’s past, including a troubling disciplinary record at school, but more importantly, rape and sexual assault complaints levied against Kelley after his release from military confinement. However, these complaints did not result in charges being filed against him. Kelley then moved from his home town of New Braunfels, Texas to a trailer park in Colorado Springs where he faced another bevy of complaints, this time for physically abusing his pet Siberian Husky. Multiple witnesses reported seeing him punching the dog with both fists as he shouted at it, and then dragging the dog into his trailer. Police placed Kelley under arrest on charges of animal cruelty. Kelley pled guilty and received a deferred sentence.
Unfortunately, a series of failures by Air Force administration resulted in Kelley passing background checks on multiple occasions for firearm purchases, and although his run-ins with civilian law enforcement did not result in convictions that would limit one’s right to own a firearm, the trail of red flags left in Kelley’s wake has spurred debate about the type of mental health and legal oversight applied to the firearm industry in the United States, as some decry the lack of gun control regulation and others to cite systemic failures in enforcing that which already exists.
Image courtesy of Texas Department of Health Services