Bureaucratic bungling proves there can never be such a thing as a "universal" background check
The latest mass killings in "no-guns" public places - a church in Charleston, SC recruiting stations in Chattanooga, TN and a movie theater in Lafayette, LA - have produced the inevitable calls for more background checks on private transfers of firearms between adults, despite the fact that, in each of these cases, the killers did not acquire their firearms via this legal method. Instead, each one of them passed background checks, and in at least two cases, they have exposed fatal flaws in the current system which prove that "universal" background checks are a myth, and will never prevent such attacks.
From the Assocated Press:
Despite obvious and public signs of mental illness — most importantly, a Georgia judge’s order committing him to mental health treatment against his will as a danger to himself and others in 2008 — [the Louisiana killer] was able to walk into an Alabama pawn shop six years later and buy a .40-caliber handgun.
Court records reviewed by the Associated Press strongly suggest [the killer] should have been reported to the state and federal databases used to keep people with serious mental illnesses from buying firearms, legal experts said.
“It sure does seem like something failed,” said Judge Susan Tate, who presides over a probate court in Athens, Ga., and has studied issues relating to weapons and the mentally ill.
[This man] never should have been able to buy a gun, said Sheriff Heath Taylor in Russell County, Alabama, whose office denied him a concealed weapons permit in 2006 based on arson and domestic violence allegations.
But despite a federal law that prohibits the purchase or possession of a firearm by anyone who has ever been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment, the Louisiana killer was able to pass a background check and purchase a gun, because government officials failed to report the killer's 2008 involuntary mental commitment to the Georgia database that feeds the FBI’s background check system.
Similarly, human error by a government official resulted in a disqualifying criminal charge pending against the Charleston killer not being listed in state records.
Gun ban extremists claim that "common sense" dictates that a background check should be completed on every sale. But as these attacks prove, background checks are dependent on the information that is placed in the database, and the database is horribly deficient.
In April, the Columbus Dispatch reported that the computerized background-check system operated by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation has been troubled for years, sometimes indicating that thousands of criminals have clean records.
From the article:
A review of thousands of pages of records reveal ongoing problems that have led supervisors to label the 15-year-old system — used for more than 1.3 million checks a year — as “cobbled together” and “running on borrowed time.”
Thousands of intertwined criminal-conviction and fingerprint records with processing errors have hung in limbo in a twitchy computer system for months at a time while records of convictions don’t arrive promptly — or at all.
The system is used to vet school teachers, foster parents, medical professionals, police officers, firefighters, day-care and nursing home workers and gun owners seeking concealed-carry permits, among many others.
If the system doesn’t work, felons can be hired for jobs they should not have landed, police officers might not know they just stopped a person with a history of violence, and ex-convicts could be OK’d to carry handguns.
And there are times when it hasn’t worked. Hundreds of times in the past three years, including 195 in 2014, BCI backtracked to tell employers that they had been incorrectly informed that a would-be, or hired, employee had no criminal record.
Questions about accuracy aren’t limited to the computer system. Since 2013, some court clerks, including in Franklin and Hamilton counties, inadvertently did not submit criminal conviction records to BCI for months. And problems remain.
A spot check by WBNS-TV of municipal and county court records in eight counties found 6.6 percent of convictions from recent years — more than 10,000 overall — missing from the state system.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, in whose office the BCI is located, was quoted as saying “we inherited kind of a Model T (information technology) system. Going back years and years, nothing had been done, really, to bring it up to date.”
DeWine likened the challenge of fixing the background-check system to changing an engine in an airplane while it is flying.
BCI says many problems stem from electronic prints, totaling nearly 278,000 last year, submitted improperly through the so-called “Live Scan” system used by police, courts and employers to send images to the state agency.
“We cannot trust that ALL of the transactions accepted at Live Scan are archiving. This has been an ongoing, serious, high-priority problem that I thought everyone was aware of,” a supervisor complained in an email last year.
More than 1,100 times from 2012 to 2014, BCI officials changed criminal histories recorded through flawed fingerprint scans as “no-hit” when, in fact, checks showed the people had “hits” — prior convictions with fingerprints on file.
One of the system’s most alarming failures came in 2013 when 1,432 criminal convictions did not flow into the Law Enforcement Automated Data System for six months — including three months after the problem was discovered.
Police officers statewide use LEADS to check on the backgrounds of people they stop, question and investigate.
The Dispatch investigation also found that:
-- Some sheriffs complain that they periodically fail to receive background checks within the 45-day legal limit for issuing permits to people seeking to carry concealed handguns.
-- The so-called “Rapback” component of the background-check system sometimes fails to promptly notify public employers, such as school districts, of employees recently convicted of crimes, including bus drivers charged with drunken driving.
-- Criminal convictions and fingerprints are not always promptly transferred to the FBI for its national database, and checks requested by the FBI sometimes have to be “reset” so they process.
-- Public employers complain that some background checks can take four to six weeks, leaving them and would-be employees — including teachers and nurses — in limbo awaiting their state licenses.
-- Some criminal records given to employers improperly reflected juvenile arrests, and some court-ordered expungements of criminal records were not being recorded.
-- BCI officials discovered last year that some employers were receiving outdated background checks rather than updated reports reflecting first-time or additional convictions.
There is proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that the background check database is woefully incomplete, and there can be no doubt that those calling for "universal" background checks know this. So why, might you ask, would they continue to press for such a mandate? Could it be that it has nothing to do with prohiting criminals from obtaining firearms, but rather, as pro-gun rights advocates maintain, that the real intent of the database is to create a gun owner registry?
As my friend Jeff Knox has written, "the people and organizations pushing background checks are the same people and organizations that have pushed for complete bans on certain types of guns and 'ammunition feeding devices,' pushed for registration of all guns and gun owners, and pushed for all manner of restrictions, limitations, and controls over guns and gun owners. Their agenda hasn’t changed."
Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, BFA PAC Vice Chairman, and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website.