Air Force Addresses Failure To Forward Criminal Records Of Texas Gunman To FBI

Nov 9, 2017
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Air Force is under scrutiny for its failure to forward criminal records to the FBI. As we learned earlier this week, the man who killed 26 people in Texas on Sunday had been convicted for domestic violence while he was in the Air Force, and that should have prohibited him from buying firearms from a licensed dealer. But the conviction was not shared with the feds, so it didn't come up in background checks. Today at the Pentagon, the secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson, acknowledged the failure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HEATHER WILSON: The offenses for which the shooter in Texas was court martialed should have been reported. We are looking at all of our databases. And if we have problems that we find, we'll fix them.

SIEGEL: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman was at that briefing and joins us now. And Tom, earlier this week you broke this story. I want you to remind us of what you found out and why it was important.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, Robert, the problem was the assault conviction by the Texas shooter who was in the Air Force at the time in 2012 was not added to a database by Air Force officials. And this database is used by licensed gun sellers to determine if someone can legally buy a gun. And because of his conviction and because of his domestic abuse, he should have popped on this system and been denied a purchase. But of course he went to a gun seller, was able to purchase some weapons. Secretary Wilson, as you - as she said, said those offenses should have been reported.

SIEGEL: Well, we heard a bit of Secretary of the Air Force Wilson. Also, I gather, today Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein talked about this. What did they say about the failure?

BOWMAN: Well, all they said is they're still investigating exactly what happened. There could be a draft report next week. Clearly it was human error here. And Secretary Wilson said if there are other problems, that they will fix them. So I asked, well, don't you clearly have a problem?

SIEGEL: Yeah.

BOWMAN: This database the gun sellers use only shows dishonorable discharges, which automatically bars a gun purchase, and pretty much nothing else. No other criminal convictions are really on that database. I said, isn't that a problem? And she said, well, there are multiple databases, and maybe they - the crimes are in another database. She said there are three of them besides the one that gun sellers use. So clearly there's a problem not only with the Air Force, Robert, but...

SIEGEL: Yep.

BOWMAN: ...Pentagon-wide.

SIEGEL: Well, did they say what they're going to do to correct that problem?

BOWMAN: No, they didn't. All they say is they're still investigating. As Secretary Wilson said, if there's a problem, we'll fix it. But absolutely there's a problem if you have multiple databases and people like this Devin Kelley are falling through the cracks and being able to buy guns from a licensed dealer when they should not be able to.

SIEGEL: Tom, how unusual was this for the secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force chief of staff to have to come out and talk about a story like - this sounds very uncommon to me, what you're describing.

BOWMAN: Well, what's interesting, Robert, is this was a previously planned press conference about the state of the Air Force, so they spent a lot of time talking about the lack of pilots, how the new bomber is going. It's on track, they said. So this was previously planned. But clearly a lot of the questions revolved around what happened down in Texas.

SIEGEL: Not the subject that they were - that they had planned the news conference for obviously.

BOWMAN: That's right.

SIEGEL: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.