A new legal interpretation by the FBI says that only wanted people who have crossed state lines are barred from purchasing firearms. It is not clear how many people have bought guns since the change was made in February who previously would have been prohibited.
Tens of thousands of people wanted by law enforcement officials have been removed this year from the FBI criminal background check database that prohibits “fugitives from justice” from buying guns, the Washington Post reports. The names were taken out after the FBI in February changed its legal interpretation of “fugitive from justice” to say it pertains only to wanted people who have crossed state lines. Under the change, fugitives who were previously prohibited under federal law from purchasing firearms can now buy them, unless they are barred for other reasons. Since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was created in 1998, the background check system has prevented 1.5 million people from buying guns, including 180,000 denials to people who were fugitives from justice.
It is unclear how many people may have bought guns since February who previously would have been prohibited from doing so. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo Wednesday to the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives instructing them to take several steps to improve NICS. The system, he said, is “critical for us to be able to keep guns out of the hands of those . . . prohibited from owning them.” The criminal background check system has come under scrutiny after the Air Force said it failed to follow policies for alerting the FBI about the domestic violence conviction of Devin Kelley, who killed more than two dozen churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Tx., this month. Because his conviction was not entered into NICS, Kelley was allowed to buy firearms. Speaking of “fugitives from justice,” Robyn Thomas of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “Any one of these potentially dangerous fugitives can currently walk into a licensed gun dealer, pass a criminal background check, and walk out with a gun.” She called on the FBI and ATF to “correct this self-inflicted loophole” and recover all guns purchased this year because of the purge of names from the database.