Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.
While we all know by now that mass shootings are almost always preventable, it’s not often that you can get a court to formally declare this is the case. That’s what happened last summer, when a federal judge held the Air Force responsible for a deadly mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November 2017.
Five years earlier, the gunman, Devin Kelley, had pleaded guilty at a court-martial to physically and sexually assaulting his then-wife and cracking his stepson’s skull. If the Air Force had reported this plea to law enforcement outside the military, Kelley would have never been allowed to legally buy the AR-15 clone that he used to kill 26 people and wound 22 others before turning the gun on himself at the church.
The bill finally came due for that catastrophic failure on Feb. 7, 2022, when the Air Force was ordered to pay $230 million to the victims and their survivors of the Sutherland Springs massacre. And this isn’t the first time the military has been sued: New York City, San Francisco, and Philadelphia sued the Pentagon in 2017 in hopes of forcing fixes to “deadly gaps” in the system that allowed former service members to get guns when they should have been legally barred from getting them.