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Sporting goods store broke federal gun law when it sold rifle to Texas church shooter

A sporting goods retailer violated a federal gun law when it sold an AR-15-style rifle and 30-round-capacity magazine to Devin Patrick Kelley, who later used them to kill more than two dozen worshipers at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, federal prosecutors said in a court filing.

Kelley presented a Colorado driver’s license at a Texas Academy Sports + Outdoors store to buy the rifle and ammunition, the Department of Justice said in a motion filed this week. Because the magazine on the rifle Kelley purchased was illegal in Colorado, it was against the law to sell it to Kelley in Texas.

The Department of Justice wants to add Academy as a responsible third party in an ongoing federal lawsuit.

Prosecutor Paul David Stern wrote in the filing:

Academy sold Kelley a firearm, specifically a high-capacity Model 8500 Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic AR-15 style rifle, which included a large-capacity 30-round magazine. To purchase this firearm, Kelley presented Academy with a Colorado driver’s license. With respect to the sale of that rifle, the Federal Gun Control Act required Academy to comply with the laws of both Texas, the seller’s state, and Colorado, the buyer’s apparent state of residence. 18 U.S.C. 922(b)(3). Colorado law restricts the sale of high-capacity magazines, i.e. magazines holding more than fifteen rounds.

Therefore, Academy was not permitted to sell Kelley the Model 8500 Ruger AR-556 under federal law because sale of that rifle would have been illegal in Colorado. On November 5, 2017, Kelley used the Model 8500 Ruger AR-556 to commit the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Academy’s conduct thus contributed to causing the harm for which recovery is sought in this action.

Kelley bought the semi-automatic high capacity weapon 18 months before the shooting.

Jamal Alsaffar, an attorney representing the victims’ families, also noted the findings of a government report released last year showing the U.S. Air Force failed on six separate occasions to report information that could have prevented Kelley, an ex-airman, from purchasing a gun. The Department of Defense inspector general’s report detailed Kelley’s long history of violence, obsession with guns, and menacing behavior toward women. Kelley, who served nearly five years in the Air Force, was court-martialed and sentenced to one year of confinement for assaulting his wife and stepson.