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Suspect in Texas Church Massacre was Thrown Out of Air Force & Jailed for Assaulting Wife & Child

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We begin today’s show with Sunday’s mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a tiny rural community east of San Antonio, Texas, which killed 26 people and wounded 20 more. The suspected shooter has been identified as a 26-year-old white man named Devin Patrick Kelley from New Braunfels, Texas. Kelley enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2010. In 2012, he was court-martialed for assaulting his wife and child, leading to a year-long imprisonment and a “bad conduct” discharge in 2014. The “bad conduct” discharge—versus a “dishonorable discharge”—meant Kelley was still eligible to buy firearms legally.

For more, we speak with Sarah Tofte, research director at Everytown for Gun Safety. Her team has just published a new report on the links between domestic violence and mass shootings.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with Sunday’s mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a tiny rural community east of San Antonio, Texas. Just after 11 a.m. on Sunday, a man walked into the church wearing a ballistic vest and carrying a Ruger AR-556 assault-style rifle and opened fire, first outside, then went back to his truck, went back into the church and killed 26 people, wounding at least 20 more. Among the victims was a pregnant woman; the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor; other children as young as five years old.

The suspected shooter has been identified as a 26-year-old white man named Devin Patrick Kelley from New Braunfels, Texas. Kelley enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2010. In 2012, he was court-martialed for assaulting his wife and child, leading to a year imprisonment and a bad conduct discharge in 2014. The bad conduct discharge—versus a dishonorable discharge—meant Kelley was still eligible to buy firearms legally. In 2014, Kelley was also charged with mistreatment, neglect or cruelty to animals in Colorado, though the case was ultimately dismissed. In April 2016, Kelley purchased the Ruger AR-556 rifle at an Academy Sports + Outdoors store in San Antonio, Texas. In filling out the background check paperwork, Kelley indicated he did not have a criminal history that disqualified him from purchasing the firearm.

On Sunday, Kelley was found dead in his car from a gunshot wound shortly after the shooting, about 11 miles away. It’s not yet known whether he killed himself or whether he was shot by a local resident who opened fire on Kelley after the church massacre, then chased him, along with another resident, to that 11 miles away.

Late on Sunday night, Sutherland Springs residents gathered for a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims of the attack.

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS RESIDENT: It’s very devastating, and it’s hard to hear the people you know were hurt that bad and that children died.

REPORTER: Children you knew?

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS RESIDENT: Yes, children that my—you know, and Jenny, she worked in the nursery. She’s like the only person outside of my family that I trusted with my kids while we were at church. It’s just really hard to hear something happened to people that you know.

AMY GOODMAN: The shooting came as President Trump was visiting Japan as part of a 13-day tour across Asia. As part of the tour, President Trump is attempting to sell weapons and other military equipment to Japan and South Korea amidst escalating tensions, sparked by President Trump, on the Korean Peninsula. Ahead of the trip, Trump tweeted, quote, “I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States,” unquote. On Sunday, President Trump addressed the shooting from Tokyo, saying it was not the time to talk about gun control and that mental health, not firearms, is the problem.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think that mental health is your problem here. This was a very—based on preliminary reports, very deranged individual, a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn’t a guns situation. I mean, we could go into it, but it’s a little bit soon to go into it. But, fortunately, somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction. Otherwise, it would have been—as bad as it was, it would have been much worse. But this is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event. It’s a—these are great people and a very, very sad event. But that’s the way I view it. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: In February, President Trump signed legislation repealing an Obama-era law that made it more difficult for some people with mental illness to buy firearms. Sunday’s shooting was the deadliest mass shooting in Texas state history. It comes only a month after the shooting massacre in Los Vegas, where another white man, Stephen Paddock, opened fire on concertgoers, killing 59 people, injuring 500 others. He also killed himself.

For more, we go to Atlanta, where we’re joined by Sarah Tofte. She’s research director at Everytown for Gun Safety. Her team has just published a new report on the links between domestic violence and mass shootings.

Sarah, welcome to Democracy Now! Why don’t you begin by responding to this massacre? And then talk about what you have discovered.

SARAH TOFTE: Yes, thank you for having me.

Like any massacre like this, any mass shooting like this, and gun violence in America in general, we are sad, and we are angry, and we are, as always, compelled to action. This mass shooting, in particular, while every mass shooting is unique, especially to the community it impacts and the victims it impacts, we know from our research and our reporting that we’re seeing a lot of things in this mass shooting that we see in a number—most mass shootings. And that, in particular, is the link between mass shootings and domestic violence. The majority of mass shooters in this country—the majority of mass shootings are connected to domestic violence or family violence in some way. Either mass shooters are targeting their own family members and loved ones, or they have a history of domestic violence. And you see that here in this case. And it only reinforces the inextricable and deadly links between domestic violence and firearm violence in this country, and how essential it is to ensure that abusers don’t get access to firearms.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about this man. Again, police say they don’t know the reason for him going to this church, choosing this church, if there was one, and opening fire. But his record is remarkable. He was in the U.S. Air Force. He was arrested for assaulting his wife and his child. And he was imprisoned for a year in the military. This is back in 2012. He is—he leaves the military with a bad conduct—on bad conduct. And because this attack was not a dishonorable discharge, he was legally able to purchase this weapon?

SARAH TOFTE: Yes. While we, like you all, are still trying to figure out all the details around sort of his record and the background check itself, again, we know how essential it is to strengthen our laws to make sure, in particular, that those that have a record of, a history of domestic violence do not get access to firearms. That means expanding the number and types of domestic violence crimes and conduct which would prohibit someone from purchasing a firearm, and then making sure, once an abuser is prohibited, that they have to turn in the firearms we know. We know that these laws work. In fact, recent research from outside academics tell us that laws that prohibit abusers from possessing firearms and require them to turn in the firearms they own are responsible for a 14 percent reduction in firearm gun homicides of intimate partners. Right? So we know these laws can have an impact. We know they can work. But we have a lot of work to do to make sure these laws are as strong as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the findings in your report, what, since 2009, more than half of the mass killings are committed by usually a white man who has somehow engaged in domestic or family violence before—women in the U.S. 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries, making this country the most dangerous in the developed world when it comes to gun violence against women. Every year, American women suffer from 5.3 million incidents of intimate partner violence. And then you are suggesting that this then, in these cases, goes much larger, why especially it’s critical that this be caught early, not to mention, of course, the horror of the violence committed against the women originally.

SARAH TOFTE: Absolutely. I mean, sometimes—you know, we’ve heard people talk about the link between domestic violence and mass shootings. The domestic violence is often the canary in the coal mine for the ways in which these shooters can have a reverberating impact both on their families and on the communities around them, you know. And again, we would reiterate that we know so much about the links between domestic violence and firearm violence, both in terms of deaths, as you mentioned, but also in terms of the way firearms play a role in domestic violence generally. Four-point-five million women report being threatened with a firearm in their lifetime. One in four victims of domestic violence say that a firearm played a role in the abuse.

We also know, from our mass shootings analysis that you referenced, the ways that children are impacted. Of all the mass shootings we’ve analyzed since 2009, children make up a quarter of the fatalities. And those fatalities are driven by the connection between mass shootings and domestic violence. So, when we think about this, we should be thinking about it both, of course, in terms of the women, the victims; we should be thinking about it in terms of their families. And then, when it comes to mass shootings, we have to think about the impact it’s having on our communities and on this country as a whole.

AMY GOODMAN: The company that manufactured the bump stocks used by the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, to kill 59 people, including himself, and injuring nearly 500 others—the company that manufactures—I mean, a word I think most people in the United States never even heard of, “bump stocks”—said last week it’s resumed sales of the devices, which effectively turn semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic machine guns, the way Paddock used it in Las Vegas. On Tuesday, the company Slide Fire Solutions said it would make a number of its bump stocks available online at a starting price of $180. Now, I think a lot of people are listening, saying, “No, no, no, Congress voted against this after the Las Vegas massacre.” And even I think they thought that the NRA said it was OK. But, in fact, this legislation did not go through Congress. Is that right? I mean, the NRA actually didn’t want it to go through Congress, but just thought, “OK, we can change a rule on this,” because they didn’t want it to be permanent. But the Republican-led Congress stopped even the bump stock ban from going forward.

SARAH TOFTE: That is correct.

AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean, Sarah Tofte?

SARAH TOFTE: Well, I think it shows us how much work we have to do to get this Congress to do the right thing, and to do the right thing not only in terms of bump stocks, but to do the right thing in terms of comprehensive background checks, to do the right thing in terms of blocking NRA-backed legislation that would deregulate silencers, blocking NRA-backed legislation that would lessen and basically obliterate sort of state permitting processes. We need Congress to do more in terms of strengthening our domestic violence laws. But I think the failure to remove bump stocks is an indication of how much work we have to do and how many people we need to join us in doing this work and turning sort of our prayers for peace and our prayers to an end to gun violence into action.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to break, then have you stay with us, Sarah. Sarah Tofte, research director at Everytown for Gun Safety. Her team just published a new report on the links between domestic violence and mass shootings. Mass shootings over the last, what, nine years or so, more than half of them are related to domestic violence or begin with, the warning signs. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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Texans Decry “Extremist” Gun Lobby & Inadequate Background Checks After Mass Shooting Kills 26

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