WASHINGTON: US Army officials frequently fail to tell civilian police agencies about soldiers' military convictions, a top general said Wednesday, meaning some criminal veterans potentially have been able to unlawfully buy guns.
Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley acknowledged "gaps and failures" in the current system following a November 5 mass shooting in a rural Texas church.
The shooter, Devin Kelley, was an Air Force veteran who had been able to buy guns despite a domestic violence conviction at a court-martial that should have barred him from doing so.
In the US military, officials are supposed to notify civilian federal authorities about court-martial convictions and dishonourable discharges.
But Milley said that in the Army, this has not been happening about 10-20 percent of the time.
"It's not just an Air Force problem. This is a problem across all the services where we have gaps in reporting criminal activity of people in service," he told Pentagon reporters.
About 150 soldiers receive a dishonourable discharge each year, Milley added.
"We need to make sure that every one of those is transmitted over to the civilian law enforcement agencies," he said.
Despite America's extremely lax gun laws, convicted felons are generally speaking not allowed to own guns.
Licensed sellers are supposed to check national databases under the 1993 Brady Act, aimed at reducing handgun violence.
But even this basic requirement can be flouted by private sellers, who do not have to conduct background checks.
Milley said the Army has begun to review old cases and report any that may have been overlooked.
Kelley was convicted by court-martial in 2012 of two charges of domestic assault against his wife and step-son, which meant that under federal law, he was prohibited from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction, the Air Force said.
He was armed with a Ruger assault rifle when he carried out the attack on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, which killed 26 people and wounded 20 more.