WASHINGTON — The Justice Department under Barack Obama directed the FBI to drop more than 500,000 names of fugitives with outstanding arrest warrants from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, acting FBI deputy director David Bowdich testified Wednesday.
Fugitives from justice are barred from buying a firearm under federal law. But what is a fugitive from justice? That definition has been under debate by the FBI and the ATF.
According to The Washington Post, the FBI considered any person with an outstanding arrest warrant to be a fugitive. On the other hand, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives defined a fugitive as someone who has an outstanding arrest warrant and has crossed state lines.
That disagreement was settled at the end of Obama’s second term, when the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel sided with the ATF’s interpretation. Under President Donald Trump, the DOJ defined a fugitive as a person who went to another state to dodge criminal prosecution or evade giving testimony in criminal court, and implemented the Office of Legal Counsel’s decision. The decision meant that around half a million fugitives were removed from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about law enforcement’s faulty response to Parkland, Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bowdich about the removal.
“That was a decision that was made under the previous administration,” Bowdich testified. “It was the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel that reviewed the law and believed that it needed to be interpreted so that if someone was a fugitive in a state, there had to be indications that they had crossed state lines.”
“Otherwise they were not known to be a fugitive under the law and the way it was interpreted,” he added.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced the Justice Department will “aggressively” pursue any person who lies on their background check.