A district court ruled that the U.S. government is directly responsible for a mass shooting that took the lives of 26 people at a church in Texas in 2017.
According to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, the U.S. Air Force holds 60 percent of the blame for the Sutherlands Springs shooting after it failed to report that 26-year-old shooter Devin Kelley was convicted of aggravated assault against his stepson and wife in 2012, which led to his release from the military branch in 2014.
Federal law requires that government agencies properly communicate dishonorable discharges and domestic violence convictions, but after the Air Force failed to “submit the final disposition report to the FBI within 15 days,” Kelley was cleared on his background check to purchase an AR-556 rifle from Academy Sports + Outdoors to carry out the shooting.
The families of the victims tried to file suit against Academy for selling Kelley the weapon, a notion dismissed by the Texas Supreme Court, but the judge reinforced that the government is to blame.
“The Court concludes that the Government failed to exercise reasonable care in its undertaking to submit criminal history to the FBI,” Judge Xavier Rodriguez wrote in his opinion. “The Government’s failure to exercise reasonable care increased the risk of physical harm to the general public, including Plaintiffs. And its failure … caused the deaths and injuries of [the victims] at the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church on November 5, 2017.”
The federal government’s failure to communicate about the shooter, the judge further ruled, ended up being a life-and-death matter.
“Had the Government done its job and properly reported Kelley’s information into the background check system — it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting,” Rodriguez continued before ordering another trial to “assess monetary damages owed to survivors and victims’ families.”
The ruling comes as the Biden administration set its sights on stricter gun control and more federal regulation of the firearm industry. But as stated by the judge in this ruling, the federal government already struggles to enforce the rules already in place.
“Leadership negligently supervised their agents in the collection, maintenance, and submission of [the shooter]’s fingerprints and criminal convictions to the FBI, and that their negligent supervision was a proximate cause of Plaintiffs’ injuries,” Rodriguez said. “Despite his awareness that [the shooter] posed a risk of violence generally and gun violence specifically, [the commander] closed Kelley’s investigative file without confirming that [the shooter]’s fingerprints and final disposition report had been submitted to the FBI.”