Far too often, those who have lost loved ones in mass shootings want to blame someone. They want to punish someone. Groups like Everytown For Gun Safety are more than ready to make suggestions, usually gun stores and gun manufacturers, despite laws on the books to prevent such nuisance lawsuits.
For families of the victims of the Sutherland Springs shooter, their anger is understandable…as is the target of their lawsuit.
Relatives of people killed or wounded in the Sutherland Springs church massacre have begun filing civil claims against the Air Force over allegations that the military branch failed to input information in a federal database that would have prevented the shooter from buying guns.
Joe and Claryce Holcombe, both in their 80s, lost their son and eight other family members in the Nov. 5 massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Their lawyer, Rob Ammons of Houston, announced Tuesday that they have filed an administrative claim with the federal government accusing the agency of negligence that caused their son’s wrongful death.
Meanwhile, San Antonio plaintiffs’ lawyer Tim Maloney said he will announce Wednesday that he has also filed an administrative claim with the Air Force on behalf of two brothers who lost relatives in the shooting, in which former airman Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 congregants and wounded 20 others.
According to the lawyers, the families seek answers about why the Air Force failed to provide key information to the FBI that should have prevented Kelley from purchasing firearms.
In their claim forms, the Holcombes said their son, Bryan Holcombe, was shot in the back as he walked to the pulpit to lead the congregation in worship. He died on the church floor, the claim forms state.
To be sure, the Air Force does appear to have some culpability in this. Their failure to add the shooter to the NICS database allowed him to purchase firearms despite being prohibited by federal law. Lawful gun stores did their part, but the United States Air Force failed to do its share.
As a result, 26 people are dead who likely wouldn’t be if it not for that failure.
That said, yes it’s possible the killer would have found some other way to arm himself. After all, criminals get guns every day despite actually being in the system. However, the Sutherland Springs killer didn’t skulk around in shady corners looking for black market gun dealers or even people who were clueless as to his status as a prohibited individual. He bought through the very system designed to deny him a gun.
That system failed due to a single point, and that’s the Air Force.
For once, a family is filing a lawsuit against someone they believe is responsible for a mass shooting, and they might actually be right. From where I sit, it certainly looks that way, that’s for sure. The USAF screwed the pooch and now people are angry.
They should be.
This comes amid rare bipartisan legislation calling for an update of the background system that failed to flag the killer. The fact is, it’s rare we have someone we can point at and say, “If they hadn’t screwed up, this wouldn’t have happened.” In this case, it sure looks like the Air Force is, and they’re probably going to have to pay because of that.