NYC, San Francisco, and Philadelphia sue Pentagon for failure to report criminals to FBI database

NYC, San Francisco, and Philadelphia sue Pentagon for failure to report criminals to FBI database
The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where Devin Kelley opened fire on the congregation Nov. 5. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Department of Defense for its failures to report service members’ convictions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database.

What’s the story?

The military is required to report all felony-equivalent court-martial convictions that are punishable by more than a year in prison to the FBI’s NICS, as well as report any dishonorable discharges and domestic violence convictions. People who are convicted of certain crimes are ineligible to purchase firearms.

The lawsuit cites the Air Force’s admitted its failure in reporting the domestic violence conviction of Devin Kelley, the man suspected of opening fire and killing 26 people Nov. 5 at a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Kelley was able to legally purchase a firearm due to the Air Force’s failure to report his conviction to the database.

The lawsuit asks the Department of Defense to “fulfill their long-standing legal obligation to report all service members disqualified from purchasing and possessing firearms to the FBI’s national background check system,” the law firm filing the case said in a statement to The Hill.

What do the city leaders say?

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) said the city “relies on this reporting when making the crucial decision whether a license-to-carry applicant should be permitted to carry a firearm,” according to The Hill.

“We’re joining in this suit because reporting these records is absolutely critical to those decisions. The background check system only works if it contains the proper records,” Kenney said in a statement.

“We cannot accept the level of gun violence in our country as ‘just the way it is,’” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera told USA Today in a statement.

“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,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) told The Hill in a statement. “New York City is joining Philadelphia and San Francisco to stand up to the Department of Defense and demand they comply with the law and repair their drastically flawed system.”

What do the lawyers representing the three cities say?

Ken Taber, a lead attorney on the case, said he believes the military failed to report “hundreds, if not thousands” of people to the database in recent years, the Independent reported.

“It’s impossible to know how many instances of gun violence are tied to individuals who got guns but shouldn’t have,” Taber said. “But the fact is, we know that there are large numbers of people who are disqualified from having guns by virtue of military convictions but are not in that database.”

“Our three-city coalition will right this two-decade wrong,” he added, The Hill reported. ”The Executive Branch and Congress have both had their chances to repair this clearly broken system. Now, after twenty years of failure, it’s time for the courts to step in.”

What did the Department of Defense report find?

A report by the Defense Department’s inspector general reviewed military law enforcement submissions of fingerprint cards and final disposition reports for service members convicted by court-martial of qualifying offenses from Jan. 1, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2016. The Air Force failed to submit records in approximately 14 percent of cases, according to the report.

“They didn’t take these recommendations as seriously as they should have,” Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine said in a Senate hearing about enforcing federal and state reporting earlier this month.

Also, the report showed the Navy failed to submit records in approximately 36 percent of cases, the Army in 41 percent, and the Marine Corps in 36 percent.

“The Inspector General has been issuing reports for two decades, saying that the Department of Defense and Armed Services are simply not doing what the law requires,” Fine said, according to the independent. “Now we’re asking the court to say: ‘Fix it.’”

What does the military say?

The Air Force is reviewing at least 60,000 criminal cases since 2002 to verify whether the service shared the information with the FBI, The Hill reported.

“The department continues to work with the services as they review and refine their policies and procedures to ensure qualifying criminal history information is submitted to the FBI,” Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson told USA Today.