Cities sue Defense Department over reporting to federal background check database

The cities of New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco are suing the Department of Defense for failing to consistently report convictions to a federal database that is checked before firearms purchases.

The lawsuit follows a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, by a lone gunman identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley. Kelley’s 2012 court martial conviction for domestic assault while he was in the Air Force was not reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

As the suit notes, Kelley’s conviction made it illegal for him to purchase or possess a firearm. But in 2016, he was able to purchase a Ruger AR-556 rifle he allegedly used in the shooting, which killed 26 people and injured 20 others, from a store in San Antonio, Texas.

The Department of Defense has already told Congress it is investigating the database issue across services.

But the three cities in the suit are asking a federal judge based in Alexandria, Virginia, as an “independent” authority, to compel compliance with the reporting requirement and to establish a timetable for compliance.

In court papers, the cities argue they are entitled to sue, since they “have governmental responsibilities, and conduct essential governmental activities that depend upon the integrity and completeness of the NICS.”

“The national criminal background check system is the backbone of common-sense gun regulations,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement on Tuesday. “The Defense Department’s failure to fulfill its legal duty and accurately report criminal convictions puts innocent Americans at risk. It is past time to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”

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