Military failing to keep us safe, says lawsuit | Editorial

Defense Department Lawsuit
Investigators work at the scene of a deadly shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November 2017. A Defense Department failure allowed a disgraced former Air Force member to buy a high-powered rifle and shoot 26 people to death at the church.

Let’s get this out of the way first:  This is not a call for new gun control laws.

There is no political fortitude in the three branches of our national government, as currently configured, for a sensible approach to the plague of gun violence in America.

This, instead, is a plea for the federal government to simply do its job: by identifying military service members who are disqualified for gun ownership and reporting those names to the national background check system.

Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco want the same thing — and on Tuesday,  asked a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia to issue an injunction that would “prevent such senseless carnage” as the mass shooting eight weeks ago in Texas church .

Because of the military’s sketchy reporting, 26 in Sutherland, Texas are dead and 20 more wounded. The gunman in the November shooting, who died from a self-inflicted wound after being shot in a chase, received a bad-conduct discharge in 2014 from the U.S. Air Force after serving a year of confinement for assaulting his wife and her child in 2012.

That discharge and history of domestic violence would have prevented him from purchasing the weapons used in the church slaughter — if the military had provided that information to the National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS.)

They didn’t. And this is not a new problem.

Back in 1997, the Department of Defense Inspector General issued a report, warning that the military was not sending NICS information that would prevent former service members from acquiring firearms.

The military is offering no excuse for its failure.  The lawsuit cited a reecent Department of Defense’s Inspector General report claiming the military failed to send 31 percent of the cases to NICS in 2015 and 2016.

“That’s one in three,” said Ken Taber, the lead attorney in the lawsuit. “This is the law. It’s been the law for more than two decades. It’s just not being honored.”

Even the NRA,  whose mantra is “enforce the laws already on the books,”  praised legislation Sen. John Cornyn (TX) introduced in the wake of Sutherland Springs.  That bipartisan bill would fine federal agencies who failed to properly report to the NCIS.

Those Nov. 5 deaths were the 307th mass shooting — defined as four or more people shot or killed — in 2017, according to the Gun Violence Archive.  There have been 32 more mass shootings since then.

Philadelphia alone has accounted for 11 mass shootings in 2017.

The Second Amendment, which gun-rights activists love to cite, tells us: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the rights of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The Department of Defense may be our militia, but it surely isn’t that well-regulated if it fails this simple challenge. That creates a clear and present danger to a free state and the rights of all who live in it.

The judge in Virginia who hears this case should expedite an injunction — and then hold accountable any member of the federal government who continues to ignore the law.