Report: How technology problems and clerical errors could allow felons to purchase guns in Ohio

On March 1, 2018, the Cincinnati Enquirer published a report exposing the fact that hundreds or perhaps even thousands of felons in Ohio could still be allowed to pass a background check to purchase a firearm, all because dozens of Ohio courts are delinquent - sometimes by months or even years - in their responsibility to upload some paperwork. The report noted that this had been going on under then-Governor Kasich's watch for two entire terms.

Kasich responded by issuing two Executive Orders (see here and here) demanding that the government do what they were already supposed to be doing. Those orders were largely ignored.

In a followup report published recently, the Enquirer revealed that, a year and a half later, this problem remains.

From a report entited, "How technology problems and clerical errors could allow felons to purchase guns in Ohio":

Ohio's database of prohibited gun purchasers is designed to act as a firewall, preventing gun stores from selling firearms to potentially dangerous people. 

But that database is only as good as the data entered.

Since 2018, 28 courts have reported problems uploading data that includes the names of people banned from having guns into the state database, citing technology troubles and staff shortages, according to an Enquirer review of Ohio attorney general's office audits. 

These gaps can have deadly consequences. It was a clerical error that allowed Devin Kelley, a dishonorably discharged U.S. Air Force veteran, to purchase the gun he used to kill 26 and injure 20 more at a South Texas church in 2017. In that instance, the military failed to flag Kelley as a person banned from owning a gun.

That's why Gov. Mike Dewine wants to fix the system as part of a broader plan to reduce gun violence. 

Current state law requires local officials to update the list of individuals barred from buying firearms at least once a week. That includes those convicted of certain crimes or committed to a mental institution.

But some courts went months or years without an update without facing any repercussions, according to state audits. Ten of the courts that had problems submitting records handled cases for the counties' most dangerous crimes.

Reports say that this critical information about prohibited persons is not being uploaded into the background database for reasons mainly centered around government ineptitude:

  • A Belmont County Common Pleas Court intern charged with submitting the names of convicted felons left, and no one picked up the task.
  • Three Jackson County Municipal Court clerks left, and those remaining had problems logging into the system.
  • Not being able to login (and not taking the initiative to get the problem solved) also stopped records from being uploaded by the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court and Cleveland Municipal Court.
  • An official from another Cleveland court said they were just "too busy" to upload records that could prevent a felon from illegally purchasing a gun.
  • Clinton County Common Pleas Court clerks were confused about whether the judge was ordering defendants to be fingerprinted, so they just never followed up or followed through.
  • Gallia County Common Pleas Court officials thought they were submitting names every night to the Ohio Supreme Court's system, the Ohio Courts Network, but learned it wasn't working. Despite the fact that records can also be submitted via other methods (electronically or via mail), they didn't do so.

Until the government gets its act together, there should be no more talk of laws which only punish the law-abiding.

There should be no talk of mandating government control over private sales of guns between individuals.

Instead, those who are truly seeking to make a difference should focus their efforts on ensuring that government entities consistently, accurately, regularly input their data into the national database, and enacting and enforcing penalties on those who don't.

Chad D. Baus served as Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary from 2013-2019. He is co-founder of BFA-PAC, and served as its Vice Chairman for 15 years. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website, and is also an NRA-certified firearms instructor.

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