Federal gun laws are clear: persons convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors like domestic violence may not buy or possess guns or ammunition.
Making sure licensed gun dealers know whether a customer is prohibited from purchasing a firearm was one of the priorities Gov. John Kasich laid out in a package of gun law reforms announced last month. Among other measures, the governor proposed a crackdown on courts that fail to timely report criminal convictions for inclusion in the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
No courts from northwest Ohio were cited in BCI's most recent report on noncompliant courts, released March 30. Federal gun laws require reporting so that persons convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors like domestic violence may not buy or possess guns or ammunition.
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While some Ohio courts remain backlogged in getting the information to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which uses the information to update databases for background checks, a review of quarterly BCI reports listing noncompliant courts shows that courts in northwest Ohio are, by and large, doing their job.
“Homeland security alone is a good reason why we do it,” said Lucas County Clerk of Courts J. Bernie Quilter, whose office was not cited for violations on any of the reports since BCI began issuing them in 2015.
Mr. Quilter's office has been sending its criminal case dispositions to BCI by computer since as far back as 2005. A common pleas court, which almost exclusively handles felony offenses, has the largest share of convictions to report.
“By sending this report electronically every week we are providing the most up-to-date, accurate information from our court that is needed for other agencies to make sure firearms don't fall into the wrong hands,” Mr. Quilter said.
No courts from northwest Ohio were cited in BCI's most recent report on noncompliant courts released March 30. In 2017, Bowling Green Municipal Court was the only court in northwest Ohio singled out by BCI.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich
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Its November, 2017 report said the Bowling Green clerk's office was “getting set up” to report electronically through the Ohio Courts Network, an arm of the Ohio Supreme Court that acts as a centralized data warehouse for court-related information.
Bowling Green Municipal Clerk of Courts Katherine Thomas conceded her office was “probably a couple months” behind at that time. She attributed the backlog to the time required to input the data.
Ms. Thomas said the backlog has been cleared, and her office is close to reporting case dispositions to BCI electronically through the Ohio Courts Network.
Court Administrator Doug Cubberley said that since the matter came to his attention in late February, “we have instituted corrective measures, and as of today we are up to date and in compliance with BCI.”
He said it’s a duty the court takes seriously. He issued a written reprimand March 30 to Ms. Thomas for failing to stay up to date with the submissions.
Twice in 2016, BCI mentioned Northwood's Mayor's Court as failing to submit dispositions. Clerk of Courts Laura Schroeder said Northwood — like most mayor's courts — primarily handles traffic citations. It has very few cases that must be reported to BCI.
“We may get one in a great while,” she said, adding that at BCI's request, the court now promptly submits such case dispositions rather than waiting until it has several to report.
Ohio law states that clerks of court are to submit weekly reports to BCI, but the law provides no penalty for those who fail to do so.
When Governor Kasich was asked what sanctions he had in mind for noncompliant courts, he said he would give the legislature a chance to weigh in before he would mandate any penalties.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for BCI, a division of the Ohio Attorney General's Office, said keeping computerized criminal history information current is vital not only for prospective gun sales, but also for residents seeking concealed carry permits. CCW applicants must undergo the same federal background check as those purchasing guns.
“We want to make sure our database is as complete as possible. That's important to us,” Mr. Tierney said.
Both BCI and the Ohio Supreme Court work with clerks of court to make sure they get the job done.
“Simply put, it's the law to keep records up to date for the protection of the public and law enforcement,” said Anne Yeager, a spokesman for the supreme court.
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