Devin Kelley, Cleared to Buy Guns Despite Beating His Wife and Son, Couldn’t Get a Carry Permit Because He Beat His Dog

After Devin Kelley murdered 26 people at a Texas church on Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott noted that the killer had unsuccessfully sought a concealed handgun license from the state Department of Public Safety (DPS). "So how was it that he was able to get a gun?" Abbott asked in a CNN interview. "By all the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun. So how did this happen?"

The answer, it turns out, is that Kelley's trouble obtaining a carry permit had nothing to do with the 2012 assault convictions that should have prevented him from passing the FBI's background check when he bought his weapons. The Air Force failed to report those court martial convictions to the National Crime Information Center, so the FBI did not know about them, and neither did Texas DPS. But the department discovered that Kelley had been charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty in El Paso County, Colorado, for beating his dog in 2014. The charge was dismissed in 2016 under a deferred judgment after Kelley completed a period of probation. But it was still pending in 2015, when he applied for a carry permit in Texas. The New York Times reports that Texas DPS sought clarification about the case from Kelley, who failed to respond.

A misdemeanor involving mistreatment of an animal (unlike a misdemeanor involving domestic violence) would not have disqualified Kelley from buying a gun under federal law. But the criteria for a Texas carry permit are stricter. People who have been convicted of a Class A or B misdemeanor in the previous five years, for instance, are ineligible for a carry permit, as are applicants who have such charges pending. In Texas animal cruelty can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor or a state jail felony. In Colorado, where Kelley was living at the time of the charge, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The upshot is that Kelley, who was triply disqualified from buying a gun because he beat his wife and son, repeatedly passed the FBI's background check but was unable to get a Texas carry permit because he beat his dog.