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Columbus and Dayton Sue Ohio Attorney General to Fix Gun Background Checks

Weapons at Mad River Armory and Range
Jason Reynolds
According to Ohio law, before customers can buy guns at shops such as Mad River Armory and Range in Springfield, they must undergo background checks.

The cities of Columbus and Dayton are suing Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost's office over what they call a failure to update the criminal background check system used to investigate potential gun owners.

In Ohio, individual county courts and law enforcement departments are supposed to update the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification with criminal convictions that could prevent someone from buying a gun.

But multiple reports have found that process is not working – with some counties reporting the information late, and others not at all. That means thousands of people could have access to gun purchases who shouldn't, the lawsuit says.

At a press conference Monday, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein argues the onus is on the Attorney General’s Office to ensure information is up-to-date on the state’s database, which feeds into a federal background check system.

"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 making improving the background system so that it’s accurate and it’s complete," Klein said.

The complaint was filed in state court in Columbus and seeks to have a judge order the BCI to fix the problem.

"We're seeking action for BCI to address these clear problems so that we can improve public safety for all Ohioans," Klein said. 

“The records missing from our background check system create unacceptable risks to public safety,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who has been a leader in advocating for gun reforms following last year's Oregon District mass shooting, which killed nine and wounded more than two dozen others.

A spokeswoman for Yost dismissed the lawsuit as containing “high drama, low substance, and no solutions,” and criticized the plaintiffs for not communicating with the attorney general's office ahead of time.

“We are investing millions of dollars to improve this system and have taken steps to root out any errors,” said Bethany McCorkle, Yost's communication's director. “BCI is working with the court system and law enforcement agencies to ensure information is more quickly and accurately fed into the background check system as required.”

Earlier this year, a new cross-check system championed by Yost turned up 42 people who held Ohio concealed-carry permits even though they are ineligible for such permits.

A Quinnipiac University poll found that 90% of Ohioans, including 87% of gun owners, support background checks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.

Paige Pfleger is a reporter for WOSU, Central Ohio's NPR station. Before joining the staff of WOSU, Paige worked in the newsrooms of NPR, Vox, Michigan Radio, WHYY and The Tennessean. She spent three years in Philadelphia covering health, science, and gender, and her work has appeared nationally in The Washington Post, Marketplace, Atlas Obscura and more.