Dayton part of lawsuit alleging BCI gun background check system is ‘broken’

Dayton and Columbus have filed a first-of-its kind lawsuit claiming the state has failed its duty to ensure the background system used for gun sales and concealed carry permits has complete and accurate records.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) is not fulfilling its legal obligation to collect and maintain complete and accurate criminal history records of Ohioans, which potentially means people prohibited from buying and possessing firearms are able to do so, according to the mayors of Dayton and Columbus and their legal representatives.

The lawsuit seeks to force BCI to fix a “dangerous and broken” system that has large gaps in its criminal history database that put the public at risk at a time of growing firearm sales and some types of gun violence, officials and the lawsuit say.

“People want to be safe. They expect laws on our books to be enforced,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. “It’s just common sense that if someone is prohibited from buying a gun, including through a felony conviction or history of domestic violence, they shouldn’t be able to pass a background check because of a bureaucratic mistake.”

Bethany McCorkle, communications director for the Ohio Attorney General, said her office learned of this complaint from a press conference and the lack of communication suggests this was done in “bad faith” and seems like a poor way to try to fix any problems.

“This complaint has high drama, low substance and no solutions,” she said.

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On Monday, Whaley joined Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein and Eric Tirschwell, managing director of Everytown Law, to announce the lawsuit against the state.

The civil complaint was filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court against BCI and Joseph Morbitzer, superintendent of BCI. The plaintiffs are the cities of Dayton and Columbus and Meghan Volk, an Ohioan with two children.

BCI is the state’s official crime lab and under the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

The complaint highlights a review by the Ohio auditor that found more than half of Ohio’s counties had at least one court or law enforcement department that did not report records on time or, in a few case at all.

The complaint also says a 2018 report ordered by former Gov. John Kasich found that only about 60% of clerks of courts surveyed around the state provided complete criminal conviction information to BCI.

This is not a partisan issue, because even some guns-rights organizations agree that the background check system is broken and needs fixed, said Klein, Columbus' city attorney.

“Regardless of where one stands on gun laws, nobody should disagree with the central premise of this litigation: Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals by improving the background system so that it’s accurate and complete,” he said.

The background check system must have the records of everyone convicted of a felony in Ohio so they cannot obtain a gun, a concealed carry permit or get hired for a “sensitive” job where those convictions can be disqualifying for employment, Klein said. Many cities and schools use the background check system to screen job candidates.

Fixing problems with the background check system will not end gun violence, but every sale that the background check system blocks to a prohibited buyer is a “potential tragedy averted,” said Whaley.

“We won’t be able to stop shootings in Ohio overnight, but at the bare minimum, when a problem is as clear as this one, and there are straightforward solutions, our constituents deserve action,” she said.

McCorkle, with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said the state is investing millions of dollars to improve the background check system and has taken steps to eliminate any errors.

BCI is working with courts and law enforcement agencies to try to ensure information is more quickly and accurately put into the system, as required, she said.

“We cannot force them to provide the information," she said. “BCI is working toward having a process that is faster and the information is accurately verified.”

She said, "The problematic link in this chain is not BCI, as the complaint notes.”

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Gun sales have soared this year in Ohio during the pandemic.

On Monday, the Dayton Daily News reported that Ohio recorded 85,170 background checks in October, up 70% from October of 2019.

Dayton had 157 homicides between 2014 and 2018, and 129 (82.2%) involved a firearm, according to the civil complaint.

There have been 33 homicides so far this year, and about 82% involved a firearm, Dayton police data show. Additionally, some types of gun violence are on the rise in Dayton.

Everytown Law, which is the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, is representing Dayton, Columbus and Volk in the lawsuit.

Public record clearly shows that there are massive gaps in the background check system, likely including thousands of missing records, despite years of investigations, reporting and task force reviews focused on these issues, said Tirschwell, with Everytown Law.

“When state officials, like BCI, are failing to discharge their mandatory legal obligations, those who are affected ― here that includes cities and citizens ― have the right to go to court and demand that the government be ordered to do its job,” he said.

Everytown has filed lawsuits elsewhere in the nation in partnership with other U.S. cities.

They filed a lawsuit along with four cities alleging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is incorrectly interpreting federal law by failing to regulate the sale of “untraceable” gun parts, which can be assembled to create “ghost guns.”

Everytown Law and Kansas City also filed a public nuisance lawsuit against a gun manufacturer and some licensed firearms dealers and individuals claiming they contributed to a “violent crime epidemic” in the city.

Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said all parties involved on the plaintiff’s side have a long history of wanting gun control and have tried to “infringe” on gun owner rights.

“We have said for years that we prefer compliance with existing laws rather than the passage of new laws,” he said. “But we are obviously and understandably suspicious of the real motives behind this suit.”

“Everytown for Gun Safety especially pursues radical gun control in all parts of the US, and does so often in a highly deceptive manner,” he said.

Like everyone else, the Buckeye Firearms Association doesn’t want violent criminals to have guns, but most criminals obtain firearms through the black market ― not from legitimate gun dealers, Rieck said.

Staff writer Kristen Spicker contributed to this report.

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