Church shooter had four guns, but no license to carry them in Texas

The man who opened fire on a rural church outside of San Antonio on Sunday, killing 26 worshippers and wounding 20 more, did not have a license to carry a gun in Texas, authorities said Monday.

The gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, had bought four guns over the past four years, two in Texas and two in Colorado.

Authorities are trying to determine how Kelley, who was court-martialed by the military after abusing his wife and child, got his hands on the weapons. He received a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force in 2014, but that does not fall under a dishonorable discharge, which would have made it illegal for him to purchase guns.

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In an interview on CBS News, Gov. Greg Abbott described Kelley as “someone who was a powder keg seemingly waiting to go off.”

“Under current law, he should have been prevented from making this purchase,” Abbott said. “How that got through the cracks, I don’t have that information.”

Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and opened fire in what is the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.

Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger said Kelley did not have a license to carry in Texas.

DPS officials giving updates on the case Monday morning said Kelley bought four guns — one a year in 2014-17.

Both guns bought in Texas, including a Ruger AR-556 rifle, were purchased at Academy Sports & Outdoors stores in San Antonio.

“Based on information we received from law enforcement, we confirmed that the suspect purchased two firearms from two San Antonio locations, one in 2016 and one in 2017,” according to a company statement. “We also confirmed that both sales were approved by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. We are cooperating with law enforcement as they investigate further.”

Devin Patrick Kelley Texas DPS via AP

Three weapons were recovered after Sunday’s shooting.

Two handguns — a Ruger .22 and a Glock 9mm — were found in Kelley’s car. And a Ruger 556 rifle was found at the church, Texas Department of Public Safety regional director Freeman Martin said.

As some called for tougher gun restrictions in the wake of the shooting, President Donald Trump said Monday that he won’t support that at all.

“Mental health is your problem here. This was a very … deranged individual,” Trump said during a news conference, noting that the Texas shooting is “a mental health problem at the highest level.”

‘Dealers must run checks’

When a gun is sold in Texas and other states, paperwork must be filed and a national background check run.

In Texas, the buyer must show a state-issued ID and fill out a Federal Form 4473, which has multiple questions, said Kenny Frazier, owner of the Crazy Gun Dealer in Alvarado. He was not involved in any of the gun sales to Kelley.

“If those questions are answered in certain ways, the sale is canceled right there,” Frazier said. “If completed acceptably per federal guidelines, a federal FBI background check is run with NICS.”

Buyers who are approved for the sale may purchase the gun and leave the store with it. In other cases, a purchase might be delayed and have to wait for “further review by FBI before being approved or denied.” Or they could be denied and not allowed to buy a gun at all, Frazier said.

The database “absolutely” denies people who are ineligible, Frazier said, even if inaccurate information is listed on the application.

And these background checks, he said, are run at gun shops and gun shows.

“All licensed dealers must run checks regardless of the sale location,” Frazier said. “The only sale of any gun in the U.S. that does not require a federal background check is by an individual of his own gun to another individual.”

‘A loophole has been found’

There are several reasons people might be automatically rejected from buying a gun, including if they are a fugitive from justice, committed to a mental institution, unlawfully in the country — or if they have “been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions,” according to the NICS.

But Kelley wasn’t dishonorably discharged from the Air Force.

Reports show he served 12 months in confinement after being court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his child and spouse.

In 2014, he received a bad-conduct discharge at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, authorities said. A bad conduct discharge is not as severe as a dishonorable discharge.

The Air Force is now reviewing Kelley’s criminal records, since he was convicted on two charges of domestic assault, which should have prohibited him from buying or having firearms after the convictions. An early review shows that his offense wasn’t put into the National Criminal Information Center database.

“Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after his conviction,” according to a U.S. Air Force statement.

“He should not have been able to purchase any type of firearm,” Art Roderick, a former U.S. marshal and law enforcement analyst, told CNN Monday. “This is a situation where there has been a loophole found here and someone has been able to exploit it.”

Fred Milanowski, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has told the media that investigators are reviewing data and paperwork to see if anything should have prevented Kelley from buying guns.

“Until we can get all the documentation to determine exactly what his discharge and conviction in the military [were], we will not have a determination on if this individual was prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms,” he told the New York Daily News.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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