On Sunday, November 5, a veteran of the United States Air Force approached the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas with an AR-15 (a semi-automatic rifle). He was firing while he was still outside the Church, and killed two people there. He then walked inside and continued firing, killing another 24, injuring 20.
The killer, Devin Patrick Kelley was confronted and shot by a former NRA firearms instructor, Stephen Willeford. It is worth noting that Willeford’s shots did not ‘stop’ the mass murder. Kelley had apparently done all the damage he planned to inside the Church and had exited before he was shot.
After a brief chase, Kelley killed himself with a shot to the head 11 miles from the church.
All of this was bound to set off a new round in what has aptly been called “the single most depressing national debate of our time,” that on gun control.
Within a day it had become clear that five years before this horror, Kelley had been convicted by a military court of two counts of assault: against his then wife and stepson. He was sentenced to a year’s confinement and a reduction in rank. Two years later, he was discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct.
The retailer whence he obtained the firearms used in this assault has confirmed that both of these sales were run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and in both cases that there was no obstacle to the purchase. Somehow the Air Force failed to inform the federal civilian authorities about the court martial, so Kelley’s name never got into the database, and the retailer quite lawfully sold him the guns.
Right Wing View
Ben Shapiro, writing about this shooting in the National Review, expressed sentiments common on the right. In an article Tuesday, Shapiro wrote that the Air Force nonfeasance here ”isn’t unique,” the Charleston church massacre perp got his gun despite pending charges on a felony, the Orlando nightclub killer “had been investigated twice by the FBI” which didn’t charge him, etc.
The lesson Shapiro draws is that “government action” cannot be “the chief methodology for stopping mass shootings.”
Likewise, Susan Wright at RedState writes, “[M]aybe if they figure out who dropped the ball here, it will prevent the next maniac from getting his hands on weapons.”
One conservative response to gun violence, then, is to call for the strengthening of the existing background check system, along with the prosecution of people who are found to fail the check – because by definition this means they sought to buy a gun when they were no longer allowed to do so, and many though not all of them must have known they were no longer allowed to do so.
Left Wing View
The Trace, a news organization specifically geared to gun control activists, observes that it might be difficult for victims of the shooting to sue the government over the Air Force negligence here and recover for their injuries.
One key issue in any such civil liability lawsuit would be: did the clerical failure directly cause the shooting? That is a difficult burden of proof. Criminals get guns from a number of sources, even from guns thoughtlessly left in unlocked cars in parking lots.
Further, The Trace observes that an excess focus on mass shooting events (Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs….) itself distorts discussion. Between the Las Vegas shooting and the Sutherland Springs shooting, more diffuse incidents of U.S. gun violence killed 1,385 people.
The proper inference, according to The Trace, echoing here a common leftward sentiment, is to reduce the civilian availability of guns quite generally, closing down (many of) the retailers and eliminating the easy snatch of guns from unlocked cars as well.