Judge rules Dayton’s lawsuit vs. state over gun background checks will continue

Cities of Dayton and Columbus sued the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation after Oregon District shooting, alleging negligence in gun background checks

Credit: City of Dayton

Credit: City of Dayton

Part of a lawsuit filed by the city of Dayton and others, alleging that the state of Ohio has failed to maintain adequate records for firearm background checks, will proceed to the next phase of the case.

Judge Michael Holbrook last month granted the Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s motion to dismiss a portion of the lawsuit filed by a private citizen, and also denied a writ of mandamus, in which a court orders a lower court, agency, or other body to act in a certain way. However, the portion of the suit filed by the cities of Dayton and Columbus will continue in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

“For years, Ohio has failed to maintain a functional background check system as required by law, which could allow violent and dangerous individuals to access firearms and be around our kids,” said Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein. “The longer this system remains broken, the longer every Ohioan remains needlessly at risk.”

Lawyers for both cities allege in the lawsuit that Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation “has failed to fulfill its statutory obligation to procure and report disqualifying criminal conviction information into the state and federal background check system databases,” per the October 30 filing.

Both Dayton and Columbus have been “uniquely harmed,” by this neglect and “face a significant possibility of future injury” should the agency not be declared in violation of duty, the cities said in the lawsuit.

When asked for comment, the Ohio Attorney General’s office — which oversees BCI — pointed to the state’s response to the cities’ first amended complaint, which outlines more than 60 points of contention with the cities’ argument. The state’s response says that “Ohio’s background check system is comprised of BCI&I and hundreds of mandatory reporting agencies,” and added that the agency has fulfilled its statutory obligations.

The state’s response also argues that Columbus and Dayton’s lawsuit is illegitimate, because of the “doctrine of unclean hands,” which says that parties may not bring a case before a judge if they themselves have exhibited illegal or unethical conduct.

Dayton Law Director Barbara Doseck said after the judge’s decision that Dayton “uniquely understands the tragedy, reality, and lasting implications of senseless gun violence.”

The lawsuit was filed a year after the Oregon District shooting in Dayton, in which a gunman killed nine people, including his sibling, and wounded 17 others. This most recent decision in the case came three weeks before another gunman entered a Beavercreek Walmart and shot and wounded four people. FBI officials said they are looking at the veracity of background information that shooter provided on ATF forms to purchase the gun he used.

“We are hopeful that the court’s decision will provide a path to address the inadequacies of Ohio’s background check system. Ohioans deserve a functional and reliable system to assist in keeping us all safe,” Doseck said.

The filing also comes as Ohio state lawmakers have proposed new protections for guns and gun owners at the Ohio Statehouse. Earlier this month, Ohio House Republicans introduced the Second Amendment Preservation Act, a state law that hopes to prevent a swath of potentially forthcoming federal gun regulations, including increased taxes on guns, ammunition and accessories, as well as mandatory registries for certain firearms and accessories.

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