Did Obama’s Justice Department Force the FBI to Delete 500,000 Fugitives from a Background Check Database?

A choice by the Justice Department under the Obama administration required the FBI to purge the names of 500,000 fugitives from justice from the background check database for guns purchases. The political skirmishing over ways to resolve the issue of weapon violence in the United States took a new turn in March 2018, with the publication of reports by right-leaning media outlets implicating President Obama of weakening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Partisan website reported that Obama’s Department of Justice had required the removal of the names of more than 500,000 fugitives with exceptional arrest warrants from the NICS database. The reports focused around an exchange in between Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and acting FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich throughout a 14 March Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on School Shootings and Safety, priced estimate as follows by the Daily Wire blog site:

” It’s my understanding that under federal law fugitives can not lawfully buy or have weapons,” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) started. “We’ve spoken with local police that the Justice Department has released a memo that required the FBI NICS background check database to drop more than 500,000 names of fugitives with impressive arrest warrants because it doubted whether those fugitives had run away throughout state lines.”

” Mr. Bowdich, can you explain why this decision was made by the Justice Department?” Feinstein asked. ” That was a choice that was made under the previous administration,” Bowdich responded. “It was the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel that examined the law and thought that it had to be analyzed so that if somebody was a fugitive in a state, there needed to be signs that they had crossed state lines.” The exchange was precisely reported, as verified in this excerpt from a C-SPAN video of the hearing:

Bowdich’s claim that the choice to reinterpret the significance of “fugitive” took place throughout the previous administration wasn’t rather the “bombshell” some sources made it out to be, nevertheless. The Washington Post had reported the very same thing nearly 4 months previously (in November 2017), in an account of how the change in the background check requirement became. For more than 15 years, the FBI and ATF disagreed about who precisely was a fugitive from justice.

The FBI, which runs the criminal background check database, had a broad meaning and stated that anybody with an exceptional arrest warrant was restricted from purchasing a weapon. But ATF argued that, under the law, a person is considered a fugitive from justice only if they have an exceptional warrant and have also taken a trip to another state. In a 2016 report, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz prompted the Justice Department to resolve the argument “as quickly as possible.” Late in 2015, before President Trump took workplace, the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel agreed ATF and narrowed the meaning of fugitives, according to police authorities. The workplace stated that weapon purchases might be rejected only to fugitives who cross state lines.

After Trump was inaugurated, the Justice Department even more narrowed the meaning to those who have gotten away throughout state lines to prevent prosecution for a criminal activity or to prevent providing testament in a criminal case. What the Post’s less-politicized protection also explained was that the policy change was the conclusion of an argument that covered 3 administrations, from George W. Bush’s to Donald Trump’s. According to a DOJ inspector general’s report dated September 2016, the need for main assistance on the issue was very first given the attention of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in 2008 (under Bush), and had  still not been fixed 8 years later on as Obama’s term was nearing its end:

For 15 years, the FBI and the ATF have had a longstanding argument concerning the meaning of “Fugitive from Justice,” a classification that disqualifies potential weapon buyers. According to ATF records, there were 49,448 deals in this classification in between November 1999 and May 2015 that the FBI rejected under its analysis of the law, but that the ATF did rule out proper rejections. 2,183 of these deals led to guns transfers that the FBI thought need to have been rejected, but the ATF did not concur and did not try to recuperate the guns. This argument was described the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in 2008, and OLC offered casual suggestions in July 2008. In August 2010, the FBI asked for official reconsideration of that guidance, but 6 years later on OLC still has not rendered a choice. Our company believe this issue ought to be dealt with as quickly as possible.

If the Post’s reporting and Bowdich’s statement are precise, the OLC lastly did make its choice in late 2016, siding with the ATF on the significance of “fugitive from justice.” But it was on Trump’s watch that the policy ended up being main, with the issuance of a 15 February 2017 assistance memo from the FBI which checked out, in part: The Department of Justice just recently examined the “fugitive from justice” prohibitor and the application of the prohibitor in NICS background checks. The Department identified that the Brady Act does not license the rejection of gun transfers under the “fugitive from justice” restriction based upon the simple presence of an impressive arrest warrant. To abide by the Department’s decision, the FBI will carry out a new policy for using the “fugitive from justice” prohibitor. This policy will need NICS to develop that the potential buyer: 1) has run away the state; 2) has done so to prevent prosecution for a criminal activity or to prevent providing statement in a criminal case; and 3) undergoes a present or impending prosecution or testimonial responsibility.