In the wake of each mass shooting in America, the political rhetoric is predictable. Democrats call for tougher gun laws while Republicans resist the notion, contending the Second Amendment must not be abridged.

But Sunday’s mass shooting at a church in a small town in Texas that left 26 people dead adds a harsh reality to the debate. A law was in place that, if correctly enforced, should have stopped the gunman from buying the weapons he used to massacre parishioners.

Under federal law, gunman Devin Kelley should not have been legally able purchase the military-style rifle and three other guns he acquired in the last four years because of his domestic violence court-martial while in the U.S. Air Force. However, the Air Force failed to report the conviction to the federal database.

“The Air Force has launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P. Kelley following his 2012 domestic violence conviction,” the Air Force said in a statement.

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Federal law lists 11 criteria that prohibit someone from buying a gun, two of which apply to Kelley. He was convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, and conviction of a domestic violence misdemeanor.

Yet, The New York Times records show the Department of Defense has reported just one domestic violence case to the federal database for gun purchase background checks. The Department of Defense has reported 11,000 service members to the database, almost all because of receiving dishonorable discharges, which also prohibit gun purchases. Kelley, after serving a year in a Navy brig in California, received a “bad conduct” discharge, which is not covered under the gun-purchase prohibition.

“How about enforcing the laws we have on the books?” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday when asked about stopping gun violence. “If you’re a domestic abuser, you’re not supposed to own a gun. He (Kelley) was a domestic abuser. That’s why we got all these questions with the Air Force right now which is ‘How did this slip through the cracks?'”

That is an excellent question. And it must be answered honestly — without the usual search for ways to bolster the various sides stands on gun-control laws.

The goal must be to find out what went wrong in order make corrections to ensure the federal law is followed.

No, it won’t prevent all mass shootings, but it could reduce the number. It would be progress.

Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin’s Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart


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