Legislation up for debate next year seeks to close the loophole that law enforcement officials say allowed Dylann Roof to buy the gun used in the Charleston massacre last summer.
Roof’s drug arrest last February should have prevented the sale, but data entry errors meant a background check didn’t produce the pertinent details in time. Federal law gives the FBI three business days to tell a gun dealer if someone can’t legally buy a firearm. Once that window expires, as in Roof’s case, the sale can proceed by default.
Proposals by a Democratic senator and Republican House member would extend to 28 days the allowed time for reviewing criminal records. Rep. Doug Brannon said when he learned Roof should not have been allowed to buy the gun, “I was sickened to my stomach.”
“If the law had not had that loophole, I can’t tell you Dylann Roof wouldn’t have gotten a gun, but it wouldn’t have been that gun,” and it should’ve been harder for him to obtain any gun, said Brannon, R-Landrum.
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His legislation mirrors what Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, introduced in the Senate.
“This is not an anti-gun bill,” Malloy said. “This does not pose an imposition to law-abiding citizens trying to purchase a gun. It’s a background-check issue.”
According to the FBI, the three-day default rule resulted in nearly 16,000 guns being bought nationwide from 2010 through 2014 by people ineligible to buy them.
Eighteen states already allow more time for background checks. North Carolina provides 14 days for a background check for a handgun sale, according to the California-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Neither Malloy’s nor Brannon’s bills include a waiting period for applicants whose background checks come back clean.
“I don’t believe we have the right to say, ‘You can’t buy a gun for five days.’ We do have the right to say, ‘You can’t buy a gun until you pass a criminal background check.’ There’s a difference,” Brannon said.
Malloy said he picked 28 days for the extension based on information in an FBI report from 2000. When a default sale happened – but should have been denied – the elapsed time typically was 25 business days. When states’ electronic databases are incomplete, it takes time for investigators to track down details on the charge or its outcome, the report said.
NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said the organization opposes the legislation.
“This is just another example of politicians exploiting a tragedy to push an unpopular gun control agenda,” Mortensen said. “Extending the background check period would not have prevented Dylan Roof from buying a gun.”
In Roof’s case, the FBI examiner knew Roof had an arrest record but couldn’t find the documents. A Lexington County jail clerk had incorrectly entered the location of Roof’s arrest last February. While the mistake was fixed at the jail within days, the state database wasn’t corrected. So when an FBI examiner pulled Roof’s records in April, she called the wrong agency to try to get the details.
FBI Director James Comey has said the drug Roof possessed, without a prescription, should have disqualified him from buying a gun.
But when three days passed without those details, Roof was allowed to buy the .45-caliber handgun authorities say was used in the June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston that killed nine African-Americans.
“We can’t have these mass shootings as just another day in America,” Malloy said. “This is one thing we can do, and it will make a difference.”