The Air Force’s failure to transmit the criminal record of Texas church shooter Devin Kelley to the FBI, which would likely have stopped the sale of a rifle used in Sunday’s massacre, highlights a longstanding flaw in the systems the U.S. government uses to restrict firearms sales and track gun ownership, USA Today reports. Federal authorities have long complained that incomplete databases and staff shortages make it difficult to keep pace with the constant stream of required background checks. Last year, the FBI official overseeing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was forced to transfer personnel from construction projects and units that gather crime statistics to keep up with background checks as the office processed a record 27.5 million checks. At the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives’ National Tracing Center, shipping containers and cardboard boxes brimming with un-examined paper purchase records have languished in hallways and in the center’s parking lot awaiting transfer to an electronic system.
“Unless people get serious about these issues, the problem is just going to keep getting worse,” said Michael Bouchard, a former ATF official. “Sometimes, it gets beyond the point of ridiculous.” The rifle used in Sunday’s assault, which left 26 dead, was quickly traced to Kelley. By then, it was too late: The troubled airman’s 2012 court martial and conviction on domestic violence charges for assaulting his wife and attacking his 1-year-old child was not transmitted to the FBI. The database relies on voluntary record submissions from law enforcement agencies to guard against unauthorized firearm purchases. “Many of the challenges that we have long faced have not gone away, nor will they go away,” said Stephen Morris, a former FBI official who oversaw the vast background check operation in West Virginia. “Like they say: Garbage in, garbage out.”