US Justice Department to give $144.5M to victims of 2017 Texas mass shooting in settlement News
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US Justice Department to give $144.5M to victims of 2017 Texas mass shooting in settlement

The US Department of Justice Wednesday reached a $144.5 million settlement with families of those injured and killed in the 2017 mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

In 2017 Devin Kelley opened fire during a church service, killing 26 and injuring 22 others. Kelley later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The survivors and families of the victims joined in a lawsuit against the US government, alleging negligence under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act due to the government’s failure to prevent Kelley from purchasing a firearm despite his prior felony convictions. In 2021 a federal district court ruled that the government was partially responsible for the deaths due to negligence. The settlement issued Wednesday will resolve all appeals from this ruling.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta commented on the settlement, saying:

No words or amount of money can dimmish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs. Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.

In 2012 Kelley was convicted of assault of his wife and stepson, resulting in dishonorable discharge from the United States Air Force. This conviction should have disqualified Kelley from purchasing a firearm out-of-state under federal law. The Air Force, however, failed to report the required information to the federal court system, resulting in Kelley not appearing in the background check system. Plaintiffs allege that, had Kelley been prevented from purchasing firearms by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICBS), the shooting might not have occurred.

In 2017 Kelley purchased the firearms and ammunition used in the shooting from an Academy store in San Antonio, Texas in four separate transactions. As a Colorado citizen, federal law required Kelley to pass a background check for an out-of-state firearm purchases in Texas. For each transaction, Kelley was subject to a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICBS), and each time, he passed.

While the settlement may bring some closure to the victims of the Sutherland tragedy, the debate over gun control in the United States is far from over. Last week, state legislation has increased firearm access in Florida and Minnesota.