DAVID GREENE, HOST:
After the mass shooting in Las Vegas, there was this narrative that developed. The warning signs we expect to learn about were just not there. The shooter had no criminal history. No one could have seen this coming. The story coming out of Texas this week is the complete opposite. The gunman who opened fire in a small church was convicted of domestic assault while in the Air Force. Devin Patrick Kelley was sent to a mental health facility, and a police report says he then escaped.
NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, has been following all of this and is in our studios. Hey there, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREENE: So what have you learned about Kelley's time in this mental health facility?
BOWMAN: Well, I'm told that the Air Force did a psychiatric evaluation of Devin Kelley in May of 2012. And then shortly thereafter, he went to the civilian mental health facility. They just didn't have any facilities at Holloman Air Force Base where he was serving. So he went there and, about a week later, he escaped. And then the police found him and they sent him back to this facility. And then roughly five months later, then he went through his court-martial for assault on his baby stepson and also his wife.
GREENE: Well, so this is just - we're learning more and more about this guy's past. What about this allegation that Kelley had been caught sneaking guns into this Air Force base, which is certainly a severe, significant thing?
BOWMAN: Oh, absolutely.
GREENE: Has the Pentagon responded to that?
BOWMAN: Yeah. Apparently, this came from an employee of this mental health facility. This is what he told police. But I'm told that there was really no evidence that he made any threats or was smuggling any sort of weapons onto the base. There was just no evidence. There was clear evidence, though, about his assault on his baby stepson and his wife. And that's what he was charged with and convicted and ended up spending 12 months in jail.
GREENE: OK. So even if it's just those charges - even if we don't know that he tried to sneak weapons in and there are questions about that, none of the facts - I mean, the - what he did to his stepson was ever relayed to the FBI to be entered into a database that, as you told us yesterday, would clearly have prevented him from being able to buy a gun.
What are you learning about the military culture?
BOWMAN: Well, buy a gun from a licensed dealer.
GREENE: Buying gun from a licensed dealer - right. What are you learning about the - I mean, is this a problem throughout the military or is this a one-off?
BOWMAN: It's more than just a one-off. It's a problem across the board in the military - all the services. They don't seem to be adding this information, convictions at court-martial, into the database. And if you look at these statistics, David, the military - for this federal database - they only seem to be adding dishonorable discharges. There are more than 11,000 added to this database. And if you get a dishonorable discharge, you're automatically barred from purchasing a weapon.
GREENE: So they're good at that. If someone's dishonorably discharged, (unintelligible).
BOWMAN: They're good at that, but listen to these statistics. This is Defense Department-wide, so you're talking more than a couple million people. They list one felony and they list one domestic abuse.
GREENE: In every one serving in the military...
BOWMAN: Across the board in the Department of Defense. By contrast, the Coast Guard lists 26 felonies. And the Coast Guard has 56,000 people.
GREENE: That's extraordinary.
BOWMAN: It is.
GREENE: So the - something has been exposed here.
GREENE: And it sounds like - I mean, the House Armed Services committee called - the chair of that committee called the Air Force's failure to report this appalling. I assume we're going to see hearings and people from military dragged into Capitol Hill.
BOWMAN: Right. And they've known about this for quite some time. David, 10 years ago, they came up with something called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvements Amendment because clearly they knew back then - 10 years ago - that the federal agencies, the Department of Defense, weren't adding this information to the...
GREENE: This has been a problem for that long?
BOWMAN: At least that long.
GREENE: That's amazing.
BOWMAN: And now they're looking into it again.
GREENE: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.