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Plummer, Swearingen Propose Bill to Improve Firearms Background Checks, Close Gaps in State Law

September 30, 2019
D. J. Swearingen News

COLUMBUS – State Representatives Phil Plummer and D.J. Swearingen today proposed legislation to improve our current firearms background check process and close gaps in state law to help local law enforcement and prosecutors better protect Ohioans.

“Ohio’s background check process is undermined by gaps, inconsistencies and delays in the data being submitted,” said Plummer (R-Dayton), who served for 10 years as Montgomery County sheriff. “This legislation establishes clear, consistent guidelines for our current background check process, detailing what needs to be reported, when it needs to be reported and who is responsible for reporting it.”

Plummer said accurate, timely data – entered into the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) by local and state law enforcement, courts and mental health professionals – is critical to the effectiveness of NICS, which is used to conduct background checks for firearms purchases.

Currently, for example, an individual indicted for a violent felony, or a stalker against whom a restraining order has been issued, can pass a background check, because there is no requirement that those issues be reported to NICS. That would change under this legislation.

Up-to-date information is also critical, which is why the bill would require that criminal convictions, mental health adjudications, warrants, indictments and certain court orders be entered into NICS within one business day. Indictments, warrants and court orders that have been resolved would have to be removed from NICS by the next business day as well.

Entities which are late in filing or updating data would be fined.

In addition to data submitted by local and state entities in Ohio, a NICS background check also queries federally-reported data, such as whether an individual has renounced their citizenship or been dishonorably discharged, as well as information from other states.

The plan announced today also calls for Ohio to develop a new streamlined reporting portal, which would be used by all state and local entities in Ohio to supply data to the existing NICS background check system. Currently, data is entered into one of three different systems, causing redundant or incomplete information to be filed. The bill provides $10 million for Innovate Ohio to develop the new portal.

“We cannot rely on a process that relies on redundant or incomplete information,” said Swearingen (R-Huron). “The new guidelines in this legislation, coupled with the creation of a new reporting portal, will bring our current background check process into the 21st Century. It will be a one-stop shop that ensures all data is accurate, complete and up-to-date.”

Swearingen added that the legislation includes $2.4 million annually for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which would run the new portal, to create a NICS data compliance team to help local agencies implement and manage the new system.

“We really want to make sure we are supporting our local government partners on this project,” Swearingen said.

The state auditor would be tasked with monitoring local agency compliance and publish quarterly lists of entities not in compliance with the new reporting guidelines, with the goal being to encourage compliance.

The legislation also closes a number of gaps and inconsistencies between state and federal law outlining who is prohibited from possessing a firearm. For example, federal law already prohibits a person convicted of domestic violence from possessing or purchasing a weapon, but Ohio law does not.

The bill also includes a “pink slip” provision that would modify the definition of “mental illness” to include those who suffer from a moderate or severe substance use disorder that has been diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional.

Under the bill, any such diagnosis would have to be made using the definitions and guidelines included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth edition) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

The provision would provide law enforcement and mental health professionals with the tools necessary to ensure those with mental illness have access to emergency services, ensuring public safety. 

Finally, the bill includes two juvenile law related changes.

First, the bill increases, from age 23 to 28, the age at which most sexual and violent juvenile offenders’ records remain on file before they are expunged. They would continue to be sealed but available to law enforcement and the courts, as is the case under current law.

Second, the bill prohibits people who as juveniles were adjudicated as delinquent for violent or sexually-oriented crimes from possessing firearms until their record is expunged.