On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that it had reached a $144.5 million settlement — “in principle” — with the more than 75 plaintiffs who asserted claims against the DOJ arising out of the horrific November 2017 mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that left 26 worshippers dead and 22 others injured.
The thrust of the claims was that the Air Force negligently failed to provide the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) with information regarding the shooter, Devin Patrick Kelly, that would have prevented his purchase of a firearm from a federally licensed dealer.
The DOJ issued a formal announcement in conjunction with the proposed settlement:
The Justice Department announced today an agreement in principle to settle the civil cases arising out of the tragic November 2017 mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26 worshippers and injured 22 others.
These tentative settlements will resolve claims by more than 75 plaintiffs arising out of the shooting. Plaintiffs’ claims alleged that the Air Force was negligent when it failed to transmit to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) information about the shooter that would have prevented him from purchasing guns from a federally licensed firearms dealer. A federal district court in Texas concluded that the United States was liable for damages caused by the shooting. This tentative settlement would resolve the pending appeals.
The agreement in principle would settle all claims for a total of $144.5 million. The settlement agreement has been approved, subject to the plaintiffs’ securing the required court approvals. Under applicable law, a court must approve some aspects of the settlements.
“No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”
The NICS plays a critical role in combatting gun violence, and the federal government is always striving to improve the functioning of that system. The department continues to work actively to combat gun violence as part of its comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy.
As noted in the announcement, the United States was already found liable by a federal district court in Texas. The settlement resolves the pending appeals. Presumably, the settlement is designated as “in principle” because a number of the settlements will necessarily require court approval before they can be finalized. (Typically, court approval is required for wrongful death settlements and for settlements involving minors.)
Per Fox News:
The gunman in the November 2017 attack, Devin Patrick Kelly, served in the Air Force. He died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Kelley had served nearly five years in the Air Force before being discharged in 2014 for bad conduct, after he was convicted of assaulting a former wife and stepson, cracking the child’s skull. The Air Force has publicly acknowledged that the felony conviction for domestic violence, had it been put into the FBI database, could have prevented Kelley from buying guns from licensed firearms dealers, and also from possessing body armor.
U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez said in 2021 that had the government done its job and entered Kelley’s history into the database, “it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting.”
In the face of continuous calls for more gun control and “better background checks” by the anti-2A crowd, the tragedy in Sutherland Springs highlights that any background check system is only as good as the information entered into it. While these settlements won’t ever truly make the plaintiffs “whole,” at least they bring a measure of accountability for the government’s failure to do its job here (albeit via a taxpayer-footed bill).