U.S. Department of Justice officials have settled a lengthy dispute over who qualifies as a “fugitive from justice” when it comes to gun possession, making it possible for some people with outstanding arrest warrants to buy firearms legally, the Trace reports. DOJ has decided that people with open arrest warrants should be disqualified from buying guns only if they have left the state where the warrant was issued, and did so to avoid imminent prosecution or a summons to testify in a legal case. The Justice Department sided with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which had long argued that language in the Brady Act — the 1993 law that created the federal background check system — should be interpreted to mean classify as fugitives people with arrest warrants who have fled across state lines. The FBI, which runs the background check system, had adopted a broader definition, blocking sales to anyone with an outstanding arrest warrant.
From November 1998 to February 2017, the FBI denied more than 175,000 sales because the would-be purchaser had an outstanding warrant, second only to the total barred by convictions for felonies or serious misdemeanors. An auditor by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General said ATF disagreed with roughly a third of those rejections. The new rule means that the FBI will block fewer sales to people with outstanding arrest warrants. “It will be more difficult in the future to deny a fugitive,” said Darrel Stephens of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “Someone will have to look at each case to determine if the fugitive meets the criteria. It is not clear who will do that.”