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Ohio Governor Wants to Fix 'Flaw' in Gun Background Check Reporting

In this photo taken Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, handguns for sale are lined up in a display case at Frontier Justice in Lee's Summit, Mo.

In this photo taken Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, handguns for sale are lined up in a display case at Frontier Justice in Lee's Summit, Mo. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

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Under Gov. Mike DeWine's proposal, state law enforcement agencies would be required to report open warrants and domestic violence convictions to federal authorities for inclusion in the gun background check system.

Fewer than 20,000 of the 500,000 arrest warrants open this year in Ohio were entered into the federal background check system used to vet gun purchases.

Gov. Mike DeWine, describing this as a “major flaw” that could allow for the sale of guns to people who should be disqualified from owning them, announced a plan on Wednesday that would require warrants issued for serious crimes, as well as convictions for domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault, to be submitted to federal authorities.

“Our state and national background check systems are only as good as the data they hold, yet a great deal of vital information on dangerous individuals is missing from these systems,” DeWine said. “This lapse creates a substantial risk to the public, to victims, and to law enforcement officers who unknowingly encounter wanted suspects.”

The Republican governor’s announcement comes less than a month after a gunman opened fire in a popular nightlife district in Dayton, killing 9 people and injuring 14 others within 30 seconds before he was shot and killed by responding police officers.  DeWine previously announced a package of proposed reforms aimed at reducing gun violence.

Dayton police have said there was nothing in the 24-year-old man’s background that would have prevented him from buying the firearm used in the shooting. But gaps in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, have come under scrutiny in the wake of other mass shootings. In Sutherland Springs, Texas, the Air Force failed to report a domestic violence conviction to the FBI, which would have prevented a gunman from purchasing firearms used to kill more than two dozen churchgoers in 2017. In Charleston, South Carolina, authorities said the gunman who killed nine people inside a historic black church in 2015 was erroneously not flagged in the NICS system for a prior drug-related arrest that would have made him ineligible to purchase a firearm.

In Ohio, DeWine will ask state lawmakers to take up legislation that would require law enforcement to report warrants to both Ohio’s Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) and the National Crime Information Center, which is one of three databases that comprise NICS. Licensed firearms dealers query the NICS system before approving gun purchases to determine if a person is disqualified from possessing a firearm.

While Ohio law enforcement agencies and courts must submit information about the outcomes in court cases, and certain mental health adjudications to state and federal criminal background check databases, there is no requirement that they submit arrest warrants or protection orders into the systems. Under DeWine’s proposal, law enforcement would have two days to submit the records.

Of the 500,000 open warrants that were active in Ohio as of March, only 18,117 warrants had been entered into the federal background check system, according to data collected by a state taskforce.

The NICS system has prevented more than 1.6 million prohibited firearms purchases, according to FBI data.

However, far fewer warrants are entered in the federal background check database than are active in states across the United States. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found in 2014 that just 2.1 million wanted persons records were entered into the NCIC database when more than 7.8 million warrants were active in state databases.

As part of a 2018 spending bill, Congress approved a series of measures that would incentivize states to report more information to NICS. States were required under the measure to submit plans to the Justice Department on how to improve reporting to the federal background check system, but several states reportedly missed their deadlines this year.

Gun control activists said it was important to improve Ohio’s background check reporting, but also pushed for implementation of universal background checks on all gun purchases.

“Improving records reporting without passing a strong background check law would be like improving security checkpoints at an airport where going through security is optional,” said Kristine Woodworth, of the Ohio chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

In the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, Congress took steps to improve the sharing of state mental health records with the federal background check system. 

An Everytown for Gun Safety report found that since the shooting, 35 states have improved mental health records reporting and the number of mental health records submitted to the system has increased by nine times.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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