Report: Nearly 100 courts in Ohio failed to report felons to background check database on time
The Cincinnati Enquirer's Jesse Balmert and Chrissie Thompson are reporting 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 notes that when someone is convicted – or in some cases, indicted – of a disqualifying offense, a local court is supposed to report that name to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation within a week. With an online system, this takes about five minutes.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation uses that state database for its background checks on guns. And when those records aren't sent, the FBI has no way to know about a disqualifying offense that should prohibit a person from passing a background check. (The article notes the state's database is also used in background checks for schools, foster parents, concealed handgun licenses and private employers)
From the article:
A similar glitch 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 last year. In that instance, the military failed to flag Kelley as a person banned from owning a gun.
In Ohio, court officials across the state have behaved similarly, failing to submit names to the country's gun-purchase background check system, an Enquirer review of records from the Ohio attorney general's office found.
State law requires courts to update the list of individuals barred from buying firearms at least once a week. But some courts went months or years without an update – without facing any repercussions, according to state audits.
Without an up-to-date background check system, a gun shop owner would have no way of knowing a buyer is legally prohibited from purchasing a gun. Each court delay in submitting a name increases the risk that someone purchases a gun illegally, someone who may already have a history of violence. It's hard to say how many names were held off the system over the years.
The Enquirer report provides a link to find out which courts are delinquent in their reporting. Click here to access the list.
Again, from the article:
In the past three years, at least 90 Ohio courts have gone months without reporting people who are prohibited from owning a gun. Of those delinquent courts, 15 were common pleas courts, which handle the state's most serious offenses. Some courts didn't report names for more than a year.
Their excuses? A court official in East Cleveland said she was too busy to report people banned from owning a gun or even to allow the state to pick up the paperwork to enter names into the database manually.
"It would take too much time to go through the paperwork and her court does not have the money to make that many copies," a state audit reported in March 2017.
Court officials in Oakwood, a city outside Dayton, had put paperwork in a drawer and done nothing with it for months, a state audit reported last November. The Cleveland Municipal Court had not reported convictions for months because its password expired, according to state records from November 2016.
The state's worst offender was Marion County's Common Pleas Clerk of Court. Five times in two years, officials from the attorney general's office called the court, wondering why they had gone months without submitting any names to the background checks system. Marion County staff complained of technology problems and insufficient personnel to complete the task. Staff repeatedly refused help from the state.
The court's clerk, Julie Kagel, is in charge of the filing. She acknowledged the court had periods of several months in which it did not send in names. Mailing paper submission is "cumbersome," Kagel told The Enquirer.
But don't worry. Kagel told the paper she IS concerned about the risk that a convicted felon is able to buy a gun because of the court's delay...
Unfortunately, Ohio law contains no penalty for courts that fail to make timely submissions to the background check system.
In 2011, more than one-fourth of felony convictions weren't reported to state officials to disqualify felons from obtaining guns, according to a November 2015 report on the problem.
After complaints, the Ohio Supreme Court and BCI created the electronic system to allow local courts to upload lists of disqualified people automatically. It launched in 2015, and local courts needed only to opt-in.
The problem? Some courts' technology doesn't work with the state's new system. Only 47 of the state's more than 350 common pleas, municipal and county courts report their convictions automatically using this tool, an Ohio Supreme Court spokeswoman said.
This problem is unconscionable, and it MUST be fixed.
We now know government officials at every level - from the Broward County Sheriff to the FBI - failed in their duties to prevent the killer from carrying out his acts in Parkland, FL. And thanks to the Cincinnati Enquirer, we also now know that our government is failing us here in the Buckeye State.
Yet some - including responsible parties in government - are all-too eager to blame and punish law-abiding gun owners who had absolutely nothing to do with this sick act.
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 is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. 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.