In a recent television interview, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the gunman in the Sutherland Springs church shooting had a dishonorable discharge from the military and should not have been given a firearm.

A dishonorable discharge is the worst kind of discharge a service member can receive.

“It was a very deranged individual who I understand long before he was dishonorably discharged from the United States military was demonstrating some mental illness challenges,” Abbott said.

So, why was Devin Kelley able to buy a firearm if he was discharged?


There are two forms of military discharge: Administrative and punitive.

Administrative discharges:

1. Honorable discharge. This is for someone who was in good standing at the end of service term.
2. General discharge (under honorable conditions). This is for those who were faithful but had some trouble (weight, fitness, minor disciplinary infractions).
3. Other than honorable discharge. This is given to a pattern of bad behavior but doesn’t have punitive discharges.
4. Entry-level separation. No characterization. It’s granted to those who were in the military for less than 180 days.

Punitive discharges are imposed by a court-martial.

Punitive discharges:

1. Bad conduct discharge. This is given to enlisted personnel only. Officers cannot receive this discharge. It’s often given for convictions of misdemeanors.
2. Dismissal. This is for officers who are dismissed from military service. This is the officer version of the “bad conduct” discharge.
3. Dishonorable discharge. This is the worst discharge for service members. It’s for the highest of offenses and accompanied by a prison sentence in a military prison.


The shooter was convicted of family violence. The federal government prohibits certain people with family violence convictions from possessing a firearm.

This includes misdemeanors that:

-Constitute of violation of either federal or state law

-Had an element or attempt of physical force or threatened use of a deadly weapon; and, was committed by a current or former spouse, parent, guardian; a person with whom the victim shares a child; a person who is cohabiting or who has cohabited with the victim as spouse, parent or guardian; or a person who similarly situated to the spouse, parent or guardian.

-The accused must have been represented by counsel or made a valid waiver from the trial.


KVUE Verify team acquired a December 2013 filing from the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.

It approved the sentence: Bad-conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months and reduction to E-1.

Court document showing Sutherland Springs shooting suspect had bad conduct discharge by kvuenews on Scribd

So, while the discharge was “bad-conduct,” the family violence charge should have prevented him from obtaining a firearm.

The U.S. Air Force admitted they did not submit the gunman’s criminal history to the FB. as required by Pentagon rules.


Help our journalists VERIFY the news. Do you know someone else we should interview for this story? Did we miss anything in our reporting? Is there another story you'd like us to VERIFY? Click here.