Sunday, Mar 18, 2018
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Dereliction of duty

  • APTOPIX-Church-Shooting-Texas-9

    A memorial for the victims of the shooting at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church Nov. 12, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas.


  • Defense-Department-Lawsuit

    In this Nov. 5, 2017, file photo, investigators work at the scene of a deadly shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. New York City, San Francisco and Philadelphia filed a federal lawsuit Dec. 26 against the Defense Department, saying many service members who are disqualified from gun ownership weren't reported to the national background check system. A Defense Department failure allowed a disgraced former Air Force member to buy a high-powered rifle and shoot 26 people to death at the church.


Three cities have sued the U.S. Defense Department for repeatedly failing to notify the FBI about service members who committed crimes disqualifying them from purchasing guns. One such failure enabled Devin P. Kelley to buy a rifle he used to slaughter 25 people, including a pregnant woman, at a rural Texas church in November.

The cities — Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco — are demanding court monitoring of the military to ensure proper operation of the reporting system from now on. The three are to be applauded for bringing attention to the military’s pattern of malfeasance and for insisting on maximum use of violence-prevention measures already on the books. Their efforts may save lives in their cities and around the country. As Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said, an accurate database is “absolutely critical” to making good decisions about who should buy guns.

The Defense Department would be foolish to fight the cities in court. It should accept court monitoring without a fuss and finally do what it’s supposed to do to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. But if the military balks, a court should impose monitoring without delay.

When service members are dishonorably discharged or commit certain crimes, the Defense Department is supposed to alert the FBI so their names can be entered into a database that gun dealers must check before selling a weapon. Instead of giving this responsibility the fidelity it deserved and operating the reporting system with military-grade precision, the Pentagon consistently flouted the obligation.

The laxness is puzzling because military officers should know better than most the dangers of letting weapons fall into the wrong hands. The military has acknowledged reporting lapses without adequately explaining the breakdown in discipline and policy that allowed them to occur. If their case goes to court, the cities should try to determine why the military gave the obligation short shrift.

The background check system only works when all of the parties play their roles. Across the country, court systems and police departments do their part to get civilian offenders entered into the database. Gun dealers do their part by contacting the FBI to make sure they don’t sell guns illegally. It’s time for the military to get on board, too. Military officers have been letting down the nation they swore to protect.

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