Speaking at a press conference in South Korea, Donald Trump proclaimed that if America had tougher gun laws — of any kind, apparently — then Sunday’s massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, would have claimed “hundreds more” victims, because Donald Trump is a complete fucking idiot. Trump’s expert opinion on mass shootings came as the Air Force acknowledged it had failed to place the name of the shooter, Devin Kelley, in the national crime database that would have prevented him from buying a gun after his court-martial on domestic violence charges. So far, no one from the Air Force has thanked Donald Trump for explaining that oversight wouldn’t have made a difference.
Trump was asked whether he thought purchases of firearms should be subjected to “extreme vetting,” and the reporter’s theft of his Very Smart language on screening refugees left Trump appearing “irritated,” according to WaPo. He initially said such a question was simply inappropriate “in the heart of South Korea.” Maybe that’s because South Korea has such strict laws on gun ownership that hunting rifles must be stored at a police station when not in use, and the country’s rates of gun ownership and gun deaths are among the world’s lowest. Or maybe Trump was talking out his ass, because why would being in South Korea change that?
Trump then went on to reply to the question anyway, even in the heart of South Korea, saying “if we did what you are suggesting it would have made no difference three days ago.” Trump referred to the fact that, after the shooter had killed 26 and wounded over 20 in the church, another man, Stephen Willeford, got his own gun, and after a brief shootout with Kelley, chased him in his truck. It appears Kelley shot himself to death, but Willeford is being praised by local law enforcement as a hero for interrupting the attack on the church. Trump took that a little farther, saying Willeford had been able to “neutralize” the shooter because he had his own gun:
Trump referred to Willeford as a “brave man” and said “if he had not had a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead… It’s not going to help.”
Trump also ticked off the mandatory “Wuddabout CHICAGO, huh?” item on the rightwing Can’t Talk About Guns Yet Checklist:
“Look at the city with the strongest gun laws our in our nation — Chicago,” Trump replied. “Chicago is a disaster, a total disaster. If this man did not have a gun or rifle it would have been a much worse situation in the great state of Texas.”
Say, what ABOUT Chicago? As Andy Richter gunsplains on Twitter, Chicago is surrounded by states with very lax gun laws, which is where its illegal guns are coming from, and the problem is made worse because the NRA makes it very difficult for the feds to track illegal gun sales. Massachusetts, which has tough gun laws and is surrounded by states with tough gun laws, has the nation’s lowest gun death rate. Oh, but there’s more:
So please shut the fuck up about Chicago, OK?
Even if we had stricter background checks, a ban on semiautomatic assault-style rifles, or limits on magazine size (police found 15 30-round magazines at the church), none of those measures would have prevented a law-abiding gun owner from exchanging fire with Kelley — and at least two of them would have forced Kelley to use a less efficient death machine.
Speaking of gun safety laws, Kelley shouldn’t have had a gun at all: His record of extreme domestic violence should have prevented him from purchasing a firearm, but the Air Force says it failed to notify the FBI of his conviction in 2014. Kelley spent a year in prison and was given a bad conduct discharge after being convicted of two counts of domestic abuse against his wife and infant stepson, whose skull he fractured.
Unfortunately, that information never made it into the National Criminal Information Center database, which is used for background checks by federally licensed gun dealers. Oopsies. An Air Force spokesperson, Ann Stefanek, said the Air Force has launched an investigation into how that happened, and into “relevant policies and procedures,” like maybe how many other serious crimes resulting in courts martial have failed to make it into the NCIC.
The dealer that sold Kelley his guns — at two locations — said he’d passed the background checks when he purchased weapons this year and in 2016, although WaPo scrupulously notes it “remains unclear whether those were the same weapons used in Sunday’s massacre.” Military courts also don’t use the categories of “felony” or “misdemeanor,” but Kelley’s conviction was the equivalent of a felony in a civilian court, and presumably that would have prevented him from buying a gun or body armor had the information actually made it into the NCIC. To complicate matters, according to Geoffrey Corn, a former Army lawyer who’s now a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, the entire military appears to be confused about which crimes must be reported to the FBI. He said the military sometimes only reports violent crimes when they result in a dishonorable discharge, which is a harsher degree of punishment than Kelley’s bad conduct discharge, although the actual crime of domestic violence was equivalent to a felony.
“Either the Department of Defense is reporting these convictions, or they’re not,” Corn said. “How is the federal statute going to be effectively implemented if they aren’t reporting these convictions?”
The government’s instant background check system flags between one and two percent of firearms purchasers because they’re ineligible due to felony convictions or other disqualifying information, although that system isn’t perfect — a backlog in processing federal background checks allowed the Charleston church shooter to purchase a handgun in 2015.
It’s also worth noting that in 2013, Congress, a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA, wussed out on closing the gun show loophole following Sandy Hook. As a result, even if Kelley’s conviction had been listed in the background check system and he’d been denied a gun at a licensed dealer, he could still have been able to buy guns at a gun show without a background check. Close that loophole, and another opportunity for a violent domestic abuser to get a gun would be prevented.
Gosh, it almost seems like Donald Trump is full of shit when he says more careful vetting of gun sales wouldn’t have made a difference. Had the Air Force properly reported Kelley’s crimes, he wouldn’t have had his gun in the first place. And if we didn’t allow huge magazines, he would have had much more trouble killing as many people so quickly.
But the system has holes in it, so obviously gun laws don’t work at all. May as well just let the mass shootings continue and hope someone else with a gun shows up to stop them after the first couple dozen victims.