The horrific shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas left many wondering how Devin Patrick Kelley was able to purchase his gun. Kelley was discharged from the Air Force after a domestic violence conviction, which should have prevented him from buying a firearm. So how did it happen? In this case, unfortunately, the Air Force dropped the ball.
With any national tragedy, the shrieks of political spin-doctors have a habit of drowning out the facts and details of the case for their narrative-pushing purposes. Liberty Nation is here to cut through the Gordian Knot of conflicting details and examine exactly how the system broke down.
Domestic Violence Convictions
Devin Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 under Article 128 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for assaulting his wife and step-son. He was initially charged with assault and battery against his wife and aggravated assault against his step-son. The four weapons-related charges (two charges each of pointing a loaded firearm at his wife and pointing an unloaded firearm) were dropped after Kelley plead guilty to the assaults.
Article 128 of the UCMJ is outlined here, and while the maximum punishment could have included a dishonorable discharge and several years of incarceration, Kelley was sentenced to a bad conduct discharge, one year in prison, and reduction in rank.
Differences in Discharge
A point of confusion in the public discourse has been the nature of Kelley’s discharge from the Air Force. While it was first reported that he received a dishonorable discharge it was, in fact, a bad contact discharge. For the uninitiated, these seem the same. There are, however, some critical differences. There are six kinds of discharge: honorable, general under honorable conditions, other than honorable, bad conduct, dishonorable, and entry-level separation (for those that just can’t hack it during Basic Training).
Honorables are the brass ring of military discharges. Service members met or exceeded all performance standards and are eligible for all veteran benefits. A general discharge under honorable conditions is not bad, per se, but less than desirable. This still qualifies for most benefits, but not those that require an honorable discharge (like the GI Bill). Other than honorable discharges are received when a significant failing in performance standards occurs. Recipients are usually ineligible for any benefits, although the VA will examine the circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
Bad conduct discharges come by way of a court-martial. Kelley, having received this type of discharge, would have been ineligible for veterans’ benefits. A dishonorable discharge, the type Bowe Bergdahl received, is for serious offenses like desertion and murder and are only administered when convicted at a court-martial that calls for it. This strips one of all veteran benefits and the right to bear arms. Those with dishonorable discharges are treated, more or less, like convicted felons. Many states, in fact, give the two equal weight when it comes to the forfeiture of civil rights.
How it ties together
Kelley’s discharge alone would not have prevented him from purchasing a firearm, but his domestic violence conviction would. His court-martial conviction is a qualifying conviction for the Lautenberg Amendment of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which makes it a felony for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to ship, transport, possess, or receive a firearm or ammunition. As soon as the gun shop conducted his background check (which is a legal requirement regardless of what the Left will tell you), the red flag for the domestic violence conviction would have prohibited the sale.
That assumes, of course, that the Air Force did their job and informed civilian authorities about Kelley’s conviction. They did not. Air Force officials have acknowledged that they dropped the ball, and their Inspector General is conducting an investigation into why. A review is also taking place DoD-wide into the reporting procedures and policies to make sure this does not happen again.
Those who wish to harm others will find a way, regardless of legal hurdles – let there be no illusions otherwise. However, in this case, the structures in place would have at least put Kelley on the authority’s radar and might have prevented this from happening. Unfortunately, Air Force officials failed to do their jobs, and a man with a history of violence was able to slip through the system and commit mass murder. It would appear there is a reason the Air Force’s mascot is a Blue Falcon. If you are unfamiliar with the term, ask your veteran friends. It’s applicable here.