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Justice Speeches

FBR CJIS Division Visit
Retired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
March 2, 2020

(Remarks prepared for delivery on March 2, 2020 at the FBI CJIS Division in Clarksburg, WV.)

Thank you, Jeff.

Good morning, everyone.

I would like to thank the FBI and the CJIS Division for hosting us at your impressive facility.

We have a couple dozen people from Ohio here today.

They are from:

Our court system. We have judges and clerks from every corner of our state.

Governor DeWine's Office.

Attorney General Yost's Office - including the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol and public safety officials also are with us.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to travel here and be with us.

I especially want to thank Attorney General Yost supporting the goal of enhancing the state reporting process at B.C.I.

We are here to learn.

It's fair to say that all of us in this room have a lot of experience in the criminal justice field. And that experience has been telling us for a long time that our systems have gaps.

The gaps have been there for a long time.

In the past year, there has been renewed commitment to closing these gaps, and that's why we're here today.

We all know that public attitudes these days have taken on a new character.

In fact, we may have crossed a Rubicon of sorts in the arena of public opinion.

Crossing the Rubicon is a cliché - but it is an apt one. It means committing to a course of action from which there is no turning back.

The public mood has always ebbed and flowed in the area of firearms, but the past couple of years have been different.

The school shootings in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead, was but one watershed moment.

There have been many others.

So many.

Too many.

The cry from the public after these tragic shootings was, "Do Something!''

Doing something means taking a look at where we have been, and charting a course of action.

As a society, we have been here before - and we have talked about commitment before.

When President Johnson signed the Gun Control Act in 1968, our country had suffered the assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior, and Malcom X.

It was a violent decade. But I would argue no more violent and rife with senseless gun deaths than what we experience today and what has become ingrained in American culture.

When President Reagan was shot and wounded in March 1981, his communications chief, James Brady, was critically wounded by a bullet in the head.

Brady recovered enough to become a hero in this field of data collection regarding gun possession. Working with his wife Sarah, this couple - now both deceased - went on to help pass the Brady Act of 1993.

It was signed by President Clinton and was an amendment to the 1968 Gun Control Act.

The Brady Act brought us the National Instant Criminal Background Check System - the N.I.C.S., which we call "Nicks."

We are going to get a deep dive about that program today. NICS is a national system that checks available records of persons to determine whether they are disqualified from obtaining a firearm or explosives.

At the local level, courts, county and municipal clerks, and law enforcement serve as reporters. They submit data to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Ohio Law Enforcement Automated Data System.

This is called LEADS.

LEADS helps determine an individual's eligibility to possess firearms in accordance with federal and state law.

These partners work together to ensure public and officer safety.

Unfortunately, we have many examples of gaps in the system from our own state.

In 2017, Thomas Hartless killed three people and himself at a nursing home in Kirkersville, 20 miles from where more than 60 guns were found at his home. Hartless was not permitted to possess a firearm as a result of a 2010 felony conviction for abduction in Knox County, Ohio.

In 2018, two police officers in the Columbus suburb of Westerville answered a 9-1-1 domestic violence call. They arrived and were shot and killed by a man who was not authorized to have a gun. But he had one because an acquaintance had made a "straw man purchase" for him.

If I were to give examples from other states - or even some more from our own state - I would be here for hours.

Let's just say that we can do so much better with the mandated collection of required data.

And the public is demanding that we do better.

Ohio has been working to improve the state reporting process.

Before he left office, Governor John Kasich convened a NICS Task Force to make recommendations for augmenting the reporting process. Then, Governor Mike DeWine reconvened that Task Force to discuss outstanding warrants and protection orders.

These are necessary measures. We must commit ourselves to push onward - and do more.

We must improve our systems so that safety can be improved.

We must make our systems work. They are not working now to a level that makes us safer.

I know the courts and clerks want to report convictions, warrants, protection orders, and civil commitments timely and accurately.

All of us want a safer Ohio and a safer America.

Let us learn today.

Let us understand the gaps in Ohio's reporting framework and work to achieve an efficient and reliable system that provides safety for our school children, our police officers and first responders - for all of our citizens.

Thank you.

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