Three major US cities led by Democrats are suing the Pentagon over failing to report military personnel convictions that would have disqualified them from gun ownership, which they blame for the recent Texas church shooting.
The mayors of New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco filed a federal lawsuit in Alexandria, Virginia on Tuesday, demanding that the Department of Defense address a “clearly broken system” that allowed Devin P. Kelley to buy guns that he used to kill 26 people at a Sutherland Springs, Texas church in November.
“Our three-city coalition will right this two-decade wrong,” said lead attorney Ken Taber, according to The Hill. ”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.”
Kelley was discharged from the US Air Force after serving time for domestic violence, which would have disqualified him from obtaining a gun permit under federal laws. However, his conviction was never reported to the FBI, which maintains the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
This was not an isolated incident, either. Earlier this month, the Pentagon’s inspector general reported that the Air Force did not submit the relevant records in 14 percent of cases. The Navy and the Marine Corps failed in 36 percent of the cases, while the Army was the worst offender with 41 percent.
“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,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, adding that the cities will demand that the Pentagon “comply with the law and repair their drastically flawed system.”
Reporting the convictions is “absolutely critical” to deciding who gets a permit to carry a gun, said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “The background check system only works if it contains the proper records.”
The military says it is already taking steps to address the problem. Following the Texas shooting, the Air Force began reviewing some 60,000 criminal cases dating back to 2002, to ensure they are properly reported to the NICS.
In November, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to work with the Pentagon to “identify and resolve” any issues with the military’s reporting of disqualifying convictions.
“We cannot accept the level of gun violence in our country as ‘just the way it is’,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement.
Earlier this month, a San Francisco jury acquitted a man who shot and killed a bystander in July 2015. Defense lawyers for Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen who had been deported from the US five times previously, argued he found the gun on the beach and it just went off, killing Kate Steinle, 32.