The U.S. Justice Department is fixing “an information gap” that has allowed offenders living on Native American reservations to buy guns illegally and for years has blocked tribal police from access to important criminal records, the New York Times reports. The flaws in the system were on stark display after a 14-year-old boy from a reservation in Washington state used his father's handgun to kill four classmates and himself. Investigators determined that a prior restraining order against the father should have prohibited him from buying the gun, but the order was never entered in the federal database. In an announcement timed with the Tribal Nations Conference at the White House yesterday, DOJ named 10 Native American tribes to share criminal and civil records with the federal government through a trial program expected to cost about $1 million. Officials hope to expand the program to other tribes.
With crime a longstanding problem on reservations, tribal police have complained about spotty access to important legal databases run by federal and state governments. They say the problem has hindered the ability to identify illegal gun purchases and to apprehend fugitives, investigate crimes and guard against domestic and sexual assaults. “It's been extremely frustrating,” said Carlos Echevarria, the police chief for the Tulalip Tribe in Washington state, which will participate in the trial program. “Sometimes the records get entered, sometimes they don't,” he said. “I believe this is something that should have happened years ago.” The Tulalip reservation was home to Jaylen Fryberg, the teenage killer in last year's attack at nearby Marysville-Pilchuck High School.