Report: Records Gap Between Domestic Abuse, Gun Buys

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The number of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence available in state databases for gun-buying background checks nearly tripled between 2008 and mid-2016 to about 131,000, says a report by SEARCH and the National Center for State Courts for the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Federal law prohibits firearms sales to people with such convictions, but many cases don’t make it into crime-records databases. That’s partly because an initial police report of an assault, for example, might not include information on any personal relationship between the people involved, or whether the incident involved physical force or a deadly weapon, which are requirements for a gun sale to be denied.

A misdemeanor domestic violence record is the third most common reason for denying permission for a firearm purchase, behind only a record of a felony conviction or the prospective purchaser’s status as a fugitive. Gun sales are allowed if a background check has not been completed within three business days. The report said, “It is very difficult to make disqualifying domestic violence determinations within three business days.” FBI data from last year show that about 30 percent of denials on the basis of misdemeanor domestic violence occur after three days have elapsed. The report says, “It is critical for documentation at the local law enforcement and court level to be comprehensive and complete, indicating the relationship between victim and offender as well as demonstration of the use or attempted use of physical force or deadly weapon.” About 123,000 gun transfers were blocked in the last 18 years under the misdemeanor domestic violence provision.

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