Federal judge dismisses gun background check system lawsuit

The shooting at Sutherland Springs last month resulted in 26 dead and another 20 injured while a neighbor, Stephen Willeford, responded to and exchanged fire with the shooter and was hailed for his actions. (Photo: San Antonio Current)

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the DoD this week stemming from its failure to prevent a former Airman from buying the rifle used in the Nov. 5, 2017 attack at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (Photo: San Antonio Current)

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Pentagon this week over its failure to update the gun background check system with service members’ criminal records.

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton said Tuesday city officials from Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco couldn’t prove the Department of Defense’s negligence would cause harm and called claims of illegal gun sales stemming from the missing records “too speculative” to hold up in court.

Dennis Herrera, an attorney representing San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle in a statement Tuesday he was disappointed by the ruling and may consider filing an appeal.

“The bottom line is the Pentagon needs to do a much better job reporting military convictions so that people who shouldn’t have guns aren’t able to buy them, get a concealed permit for them, or have them returned if police confiscate them,” said city spokesman John Coté. “Nothing in the court’s opinion disputes that. Instead, our case was dismissed on a legal technicality.”

City officials sued the department Dec. 22 for its repeated failure to report disqualifying service member records to federal authorities — a longstanding issue illuminated by the shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas church last year.

The legal challenge sought an injunction and judicial oversight to mandate the department submit missing criminal records to the databases feeding the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — restoring its integrity for the sake of the three cities whom “regularly” rely on it.

“We’re joining in this suit because reporting these records is absolutely critical to those decisions,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “The background check system only works if it contains the proper records.”

Fixing NICS became a congressional priority after a former Airman gunned down 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5 with a rifle his domestic assault convictions barred him from owning.

A review of Department of Justice records in 2015 and 2017 found roughly one third of service members’ criminal convictions were missing from federal databases. DOJ reviews as far back as 1997 highlighted the reporting lapses, though federal officials told the Senate Judiciary Committee Dec. 6 the recommendations to fix the system over the last 20 years “weren’t taken seriously enough” — a fact admitted by military officials in the days after the shooting.

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