Major cities are suing the Department of Defense (DOD) after the agency failed to report crime data to the FBI for decades, including information used in background checks for gun purchases.
New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco filed the suit last month, stating each city relies on the accuracy of the FBI’s records for background checks when someone purchases a gun.
"We all benefit when the background check system functions completely as it should function," Ken Taber, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, said.
"Unfortunately, it doesn’t function that way right now and as a result literally thousands of people who should be disqualified for gun ownership and should be in the data base that’s used to check whether they can own guns are permitted to have those guns."
The suit was filed just weeks after former airman Devin Kelley shot and killed 26 people at a Texas church.
Kelley had been convicted of domestic violence, but the Air Force never reported his charges to the FBI, allowing him to legally buy a gun.
“We can’t say because this person got a gun, because someone didn’t file the paperwork, again criminals are going to get guns – but why make it easy for them?" said Jeffrey Addicott, director of the center for terrorism law at St. Mary’s University School of Law.
"Why allow this individual to go in and pretend he’s a lawful abiding citizen and has the right to purchase a lawful firearm when he doesn’t?”
The Pentagon’s failure to inform the FBI about criminal convictions has been known for decades.
The agency’s watchdog first released a report in 1997 highlighting the failures, and have since released similar reports in 2015 and 2017.
“Just as the inspector general has said these things this go-around, he said things similar in 1997," Taber said. "Said something very similar in 2015."
"It didn’t happen either of those times. The difference we think is the court and having a court order in place."
The 2017 OIG report found the DOD failed to report fingerprint records to the FBI one-fourth of the time and summary of charges one-third of the time.
The military had agreed to the recommendations in the OIG report and planned to make changes to correct the issue, but Taber said their word is no longer enough.
“We are asking that the courts come in and order that all of this happens, and that means that if the government doesn’t obey the court order, they are in contempt of court," Taber said. "That’s a serious matter and that’s a serious impetus for them to do their job,"
Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence helped prepare the suit.
The Pentagon is not able to comment on ongoing legal action.
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