FBI Narrows Definition of Fugitive, Purging Thousands of Names From Gun Buying Background Check System

Tens of thousands of names were removed from the national criminal background check database this year after the FBI narrowed its interpretation of who is a “fugitive from justice,” according to an administration official.

Mark O'Connor fills out his federal background check paperwork as he purchases a handgun at K&W Gunworks in Delray Beach, Florida, on the day President Barack Obama announced his executive action on guns, Jan. 5, 2016. (Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Mark O’Connor fills out his federal background check paperwork as he purchases a handgun at K&W Gunworks in Delray Beach, Florida, on the day President Barack Obama announced his executive action on guns, Jan. 5, 2016. (Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Under the narrowed definition, in place since February, gun purchases can only be denied to fugitives who have crossed state lines to avoid prosecution for a crime or to avoid giving testimony in a criminal proceeding. The change makes it possible for someone with an outstanding warrant who would have previously been prohibited from buying a firearm to obtain one, unless barred for some other reason.

According to the administration official, the decision to change the definition took place late last year under the Obama administration, after a review by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, but it was officially implemented under the Trump administration in February.

“The Justice Department is committed to working with law enforcement partners across the country to help ensure that all those who can legally be determined to be prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm be included in federal criminal databases,” a Justice Department official told CNN.

The Washington Post first reported the purge of names.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the heads of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI to undertake a comprehensive review of the national criminal background check database, as the mass shooting in Texas earlier this month exposed lapses in the system.