Sutherland Springs was the worst church shooting in American history, and it shouldn’t have happened. Men, women, and children all gunned down in a place they were supposed to be able to find peace. It was awful.
It could have been worse had a law-abiding citizen not engaged the shooter when he exited the church. Who knows what was next on his demented agenda.
Yet as time rolled on, we learned about the killer. We learned how he obtained his weapons and then we learned about his history and how he’d been discharged from the Air Force with a bad conduct discharge (aka Big Chicken Dinner).
It’s that discharge, and how the Air Force handled it, that played a big role in a court case stemming from the shooting.
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the U.S. Air Force is largely responsible for a 2017 mass shooting at a Texas church that killed 26 because it failed to report the shooter’s criminal history to the FBI.
The decision concludes that the Air Force is 60% responsible for the shooting, noting that the military branch’s failure to submit [the killer’s] domestic violence charges in a federal database allowed him to purchase firearms that he should have been barred from owning.
[He] fired on worshipers at the First Baptist Church in the town of Sutherland Springs in November 2017, one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history.
“Had the Government done its job and properly reported [the killer’s]information into the background check system—it is more likely than not that [he] would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting,” U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez for the Western District of Texas wrote in the court ruling
“For these reasons, the Government bears significant responsibility for the Plaintiffs’ harm.”
The decision follows a lawsuit brought by the families of the victims against the government. Rodriguez also ordered a later trial within 15 days to assess monetary damages owed to survivors and victims’ families.
Now, let’s understand that the government doesn’t have a duty to protect people from individual criminal acts. However, that’s not what this is about. This is about the United States Air Force failing to report a convicted felon was out and about in the civilian world and shouldn’t be able to legally purchase a firearm.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that the shooting still wouldn’t have happened even if the Air Force had done everything correctly. We have no reason to assume he couldn’t have had someone else buy him a weapon or have purchased one on the black market.
But we do know that he bought them at gun stores under his own name, something he shouldn’t have been allowed to do. That alone puts some responsibility on the Air Force for what happened.
The downside is that we all know the payout is really going to be from the American taxpayers. I suspect no one in the Air Force is going to face any real punishment for what happened. Still, at least the families of those slain can feel a bit better. It won’t make their lives whole, but nothing really can. Still, it’s an important start.