When he ran for president last year,
"We need to fix the system we have and make it work as intended," Trump's campaign website said. "What we don't need to do is expand a broken system."
This would be a good time for him to deliver on that campaign promise.
But the U.S. Air Force failed to enter Kelley's 2012 conviction into the federal database used for background checks — so he was able to purchase three firearms from gun stores by claiming he knew of no reason that he should be disqualified.
It’s not clear whether the Air Force has been reporting domestic violence misdemeanors to the
If it turns out that the armed forces haven't been reporting most domestic violence convictions, that could include thousands of cases. And that lapse is symptomatic of a much broader problem with the background check system: The FBI database relies on a hodgepodge of other agencies for its information. It's only as reliable as the records they provide — which means it often isn't reliable at all.
Kelley's case isn't the only time the system didn't work as intended.
The Virginia Tech shooting prompted Congress to pass a law encouraging states to report mental health data, and many states responded. That part of the system has improved. But the picture isn't as encouraging when it comes to domestic violence, the crime Kelley committed.
Federal law prohibits sales by firearm dealers to anyone convicted of a domestic violence charge or under a judicial restraining order for threatening a spouse, with some exceptions. Last year, the Government Accountability Office found that while most states reported domestic violence misdemeanors and protection orders to the FBI, their performance was uneven.
"Some states are not submitting records at all for technical reasons," said Elizabeth Avore of Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that promotes gun control. "Others are submitting records, but without enough detail." The GAO report didn't identify which states are falling short.
Instead of strengthening enforcement, though, the Trump administration has been rolling back regulations. In February, President Trump signed a bill prohibiting the Social Security Administration from reporting mentally impaired recipients to the FBI database, reversing an action by President Obama. According to Avore, the new law means as many as 443,000 mentally impaired Social Security clients can now pass background checks for gun purchases.
At the same time, the Justice Department issued a new guideline that could allow more people with outstanding arrest warrants to buy guns. The new rule says the FBI can block a gun purchase only if a fugitive has fled across a state line to avoid prosecution or to avoid giving testimony in a criminal case. (The previous rule covered all fugitives who crossed state lines.)
And Trump has proposed cutting the budget of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the main federal agency enforcing gun laws, by 14% over the next decade.
To put a serious dent in our epidemic of gun violence, we need new laws, beginning with expanded background checks to cover purchases from sellers who aren't licensed gun dealers. In many states, felons and others have an easy time buying guns, because "private" sales don't require background checks at all.
A Pew Research Center poll last year found that 83% of Americans favor such laws, including 75% of people who described themselves as Trump supporters.
But for those who say we should merely enforce the laws already on the books, the tragedy in Sutherland Springs should serve as an incentive to make the system work — as candidate Trump proposed.