Mass Shootings

An Update on Gun Legislation One Month After the Texas Mass Shooting

The reaction has shifted to fixing the government's flawed background check system.


A revolver
Dmytro Tolmachov/Dreamstime

One month out from the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, bureaucrats and lawmakers have pivoted away from more firearms restrictions toward the government's failure to maintain its criminal background check system.

Shortly after Sutherland Springs, the Air Force revealed it had failed to report the court martial and discharge for domestic violence of the shooter, former airman Devon Kelley. That report should have prevented him from purchasing the weapons he used to carry out the massacre.

The Department of Defense inspector general reported this week the Air Force failed to turn over criminal records of service members to the FBI some 14 percent of the time. The Air Force, the report said, proved to be one of the better military services when it came to reporting criminal records to the criminal database system.

The military as a whole failed to report some 31 percent of the criminal convictions it should have to the FBI database, according to the report. The Navy and Marine Corps both failed to turn over criminal records to the FBI 36 percent of the time, while the Army did not submit 41 percent of the records it should have.

The report shows that the military has actually slightly worse at reporting these final disposition records to the FBI. A similar 2015 report from the DOD Inspector General found that the military failed to hand over these records 30 percent of the time.

Reason covered some of the military's failures to report information the background check system here.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said the Air Force is reviewing all its criminal convictions from 2002 onward in a search for other oversights. Air Force personnel will not only be required to submit records to the FBI, but also confirm with the FBI that those records have been properly uploaded into the system, she said.

"The Air Force has implemented additional measures to ensure current and future offender criminal history data is submitted to federal law enforcement agencies in a timely manner," Wilson assured the Senate Judiciary Committee in prepared testimony on Wednesday.

The other secretaries of the various military branches likewise promised to improve their reporting of records to the FBI.

The post-Sutherland Springs actions from the military track pretty closely with the background check legislation that was passed by the House yesterday. Referred to as the Fix NICS Act, the bill—which was rolled into the larger Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act this week—would require all federal agencies and departments to review their own criminal records reporting standards.

The bill requires agencies to develop plans to bring them into compliance with reporting requirements if they are not, and threatens to withhold bonuses to political appointees in those agencies if they do not comply.

The bill passed the House yesterday, and now goes to the Senate for approval.

Whether this bill will increase compliance—a law to require bureaucrats to follow existing laws—is uncertain. However, given the intense and predictable post-Sutherland Springs shooting demands for more restrictions on firearms and an expansion of the flawed background check system, the provisions of Fix NICS bill are welcome.

If this is extent of the federal response to the latest mass shootings, the Second Amendment will have dodged a barrage of bullets.