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Judge To Deliver Ruling In Coming Weeks On Sutherland Springs Trial Against Air Force

Law enforcement officials continue their investigation at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas on Monday.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Law enforcement officials continue their investigation at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas.

Closing arguments in a lawsuit stemming from the Sutherland Springs church shooting ended on Tuesday. Families of the victims of the mass shooting are suing the government because they claim it is culpable in the 2017 attack that left 26 dead and more than 20 injured.

In closing, the government argued the Sutherland Springs shooting was not preventable, regardless of whether or not the Air Force had sent Devin Kelley’s felony conviction information to the FBI background check database. Government lawyers said Kelley would have acquired a firearm by other means even if he couldn’t pass a background check. In the case of the firearm used in the shooting, Kelley did pass a background check.

The plaintiffs accused the government of relying on an argument based in an “alternate reality.” They said Kelley was only able to access the firearm used in the mass shooting because of the Air Force’s failure to communicate with the FBI and that there was no evidence he had tried to acquire the type of assault-style rifle used in the massacre by any other means.

Families began suing the government in late 2017 after the Air Force admitted it failed to send information to the FBI about Kelley — specifically about his domestic violence conviction in 2012, during time in the Air Force service. That felony should have prevented Kelley from buying firearms from Federal Firearm Licensed (FFL) dealers — these are gun sellers that are legally required to run a background check on any potential customer before they can sell a firearm. But Kelley was able to purchase multiple guns from these dealers because his conviction information was never sent to the FBI by the Air Force, a legal requirement.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez is expected to deliver his ruling in the coming weeks, and if he finds the government responsible, a second stage of the trial will begin to determine damages.

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