Giffords Law Center Demands Answers on Why the FBI, Under the Trump Administration, Removed Fugitives from National Background Check System for Gun Sales

November 22, 2017— Following the tragic mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence sent a demand letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking answers as to why, under the Trump Administration, the FBI purged all records of “fugitives from justice” from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and barred the entry of new records identifying fugitives.

The demand letter, which was sent in conjunction with Democracy Forward, follows the FBI’s February 2017 decision to narrow its definition of who counts as a “fugitive from justice,” a change that will allow dangerous individuals to purchase guns.  At the same time, the FBI also inexplicably purged all fugitive records from NICS, even including those records that met the FBI’s new, narrowed definition.

“Given recent mass shootings and the daily toll of gun violence, the Trump Administration should be making every effort to strengthen our background check system to make sure violent people can’t get their hands on a weapon,” said Robyn Thomas, Executive Director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.  “The background check system is only as good as the records it contains, and ensuring the records are complete is critical. The last thing we need is to create unnecessary hurdles for law enforcement agencies charged with enforcing the law and keeping our communities safe from gun violence.”

As the letter notes:

“Given that there are only 788 individuals identified as fugitives from justice currently in the NICS database, down from approximately 500,000 such identifications prior to the FBI Memo, it appears that the bar is still effectively in place—and that some substantial number of fugitives who would meet any legal standard for ineligibility are not currently in the system. As such, any one of these potentially dangerous fugitives could currently walk into a licensed gun dealer, pass a criminal background check, and walk out with a gun.”

Read the full text of the letter here.

Since NICS was launched in 1998, the federal background check system has prevented nearly 1.5 million prohibited gun transfers, including 180,000 denials of transfers to individuals who were fugitives from justice.

“The FBI’s decision to purge records from NICS that could prevent fugitives from obtaining firearms was a dangerous mistake which, even by the agency’s own logic, is unjustifiable,” said Ben Seel, a legal analyst with the Democracy Forward Foundation.  “It’s critical that the Trump Administration put the safety of American families above the gun lobby’s desire to sell firearms to fugitives and correct this self-inflicted loophole in the federal background check system immediately.”

There have been 45 mass shootings since the horrific violence in Las Vegas that claimed the lives of 58 people and injured hundreds more. Despite this devastating loss of life, the Trump administration, at the NRA’s behest, has taken numerous policy actions that actually increase the threat of gun violence.

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For nearly 25 years, the legal experts at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence have been fighting for a safer America by researching, drafting, and defending the laws, policies, and programs proven to save lives from gun violence.