Major Cities Are Suing the Military for Its Role in Failing to Keep Guns Out of Criminals' Hands


Citing the potential for more “senseless carnage” in the future, three major U.S. cities filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Defense demanding the military fix the heavily flawed ways it reports criminal convictions to background check databases for potential gun buyers.

New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia filed the suit just before Christmas in a Fairfax, VA, federal district court. The cities were prompted, in part, by the recent revelation that U.S. Air Force officials failed to properly report information that could have prevented Devin Kelley, a former airman discharged for bad conduct over a domestic violence conviction, from purchasing the guns used to kill more than two dozen church-goers in Sutherland Springs, TX in November.

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said:

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.

Following the Sutherland Springs shooting, a report from the DoD Inspector General’s office confirmed all branches of the military routinely failed to submit certain information about convicted offenders to the National Criminal Information Center, the FBI-run database used to run background checks on potential gun buyers. A separate report commissioned by the U.S. Air Force found similar lapses.

“The error in the Kelley case was not an isolated incident and similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations,” an Air Force spokesperson said in a statement in late November. “Although policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking.”

Speaking with the New York Times, former Air Force chief prosecutor Don Christensen said the military report’s findings were largely in line with his own experiences.

“I’m not surprised that they are finding these lapses, because this was clearly never a priority in the past,” Christensen said. “Earlier inspector general investigations found that they were not doing this properly, and the leadership never made it a priority to correct it.”

The Defense Department declined to comment on the pending litigation to Reuters.

Importantly, the suit filed by the cities does not seek to impose additional reporting measures on the military but is instead asking that a federal court oversee and enforce the current reporting process so it operates as it was intended.

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