That’s the upshot of a brief new federally funded report. State systems had 2.1 million protective orders on file at the end of 2014, compared with just 1.4 million for federal databases.
The FBI uses federal databases to check the backgrounds of gun purchasers in most states, and many restraining orders are a bar to gun ownership. (Some states conduct the checks themselves and can search their own records in addition to the national ones.) Sometimes, police also use a federal database to verify restraining orders before enforcing them.
The report goes into some detail about the system’s failures and efforts to fix it. For example, the main federal database comes with a lot of strings attached—agencies that use it have to be able to confirm the restraining orders 24/7, etc. There’s also a less demanding database available, but it’s little-used and consulted only in regard to gun checks, not general law-enforcement activities. States that want to improve their record-keeping can get federal grants, and a few states have found creative solutions to the problem.
There isn’t necessarily a deep lesson here about gun control or the way we handle domestic violence. But background checks are less effective when the records to check aren’t there, because no one bothered to report them.
Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen