The military has not been reporting crime records to the FBI for decades, including information found in background checks that could prevent someone from buying a gun.
“Having been in the military for 20 years and knowing that it’s a giant organization and there are lots of [Department of Defense] regulations and requirements from A to Z, it’s not that surprising,” said Jeffrey Addicott, director of the center for terrorism law at St. Mary’s University School of Law.
The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report earlier this month that found of the 2,500 military criminal convictions between 2015 and 2016, the Department of Defense (DOD) had not reported the summary of charges about one-third of the time and had not shared fingerprint records one-fourth of the time.
Earlier this year, former airman Devin Kelley shot and killed 26 people at a Texas church. He had previously been convicted of domestic violence, but the Air Force had failed to report his conviction to the FBI, allowing Kelley to pass the background check when buying a gun.
“We can’t say because this person got a gun because someone didn’t file the paperwork -- again, criminals are going to get guns -- but why make it easy for them? Why allow this individual to go in and pretend he’s a lawful abiding citizen and has the right to purchase a lawful firearm when he doesn't?" said Addicott, a retired Lt. Colonel and former legal adviser to the Army.
This is not the first time the Pentagon’s watchdog has highlighted the military’s failure to report criminal records. Similar reports were published in 1997 and 2015, but little change has been made since.
The Navy’s failure rate has gotten worse, going from 21 percent in 2015 to 29 percent in the most recent report.
The Air Force was the only branch to improve, going from a 31 percent failure rate in 2015 to 14 percent now.
But retired Lt. Colonel Geoffrey Corn said that while little change has been made since the first report in the '90s, he thinks changes will be made now.
“In a tragic sense, yup, we needed this exposure of the failure and the black eye that it results in to simulate the type of prioritized interest that is going to result in real meaningful reassessment of the way they’re doing it," said Corn, a professor at the South Texas College of Law.
He also said there previously had not been the collaboration needed to improve the rate.
“I think the real source of the problem is a lack of unity of effort or unity of command, which is somewhat ironic because the military, this is a bedrock principal of effective military operations, is there has to be unity of effort," Corn said.
Addicott had similar observations, citing the bureaucracy of the DOD and the high turnover rate of positions as factors holding the military back from improving.
“In many cases we have mandates, but you don’t have the personnel or the budget to fulfill those mandates. I suspect that might be part of the problem. It’s just an overwhelming task. You have a lot of individuals that are in the system. A lot of paperwork has to be handled and you have to hire people to do that, " Addicott said.
Several recommendations were given by the DOD OIG in the report. Each military branch agreed with the recommendations and has started making the necessary changes.
But Corn has his own advice.
"Every installation needs to have a clearly defined responsible authority that manages this process, that oversees it and makes sure that it’s being complied with," he said. "That in and of itself I think will transform the reporting rate to probably 98 percent success."
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