Now that we’ve removed the Confederate flag from everything from the South Carolina state capitol to Disney World to the Warner Bros. gift shop — and trust me, I’m all in favor of that, don’t get me wrong — but now that we’ve done the comparatively easy thing, can we close the damn loopholes that allow these kinds of tragedies to happen in the first place?
Background Check Flaw Let Dylann Roof Buy Gun, F.B.I. Says
According to Mr. Comey, Mr. Roof first tried to buy the gun on April 11 from a dealer in West Columbia, S.C. The F.B.I., which operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, received a call from the dealer, seeking approval to sell Mr. Roof the weapon. The F.B.I. did not give the dealer the authority to proceed with the purchase because the bureau said it needed to do more investigating of Mr. Roof’s criminal history, which showed he had recently been arrested.
Under federal law, the F.B.I. has three business days to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to deny a purchase. If the bureau cannot come up with an answer, the purchaser can return to the dealer on the fourth day and buy the gun.
Many major gun retailers, like Walmart, will not sell a weapon if they do not have an answer from the F.B.I., because of the fear of public criticism if the gun is used in a crime. The marginal sale of one gun means little to the bottom line of a large dealer, which is not the case for smaller stores like the one that sold Mr. Roof his gun.
Two days after Mr. Roof tried to buy the weapon, an examiner at the F.B.I.’s national background check center in Clarksburg, W.Va., began investigating his criminal history. The examiner found that Mr. Roof had been arrested this year on a felony drug charge, but not convicted. The charge alone would not have prevented him from buying the gun under federal law. But evidence that Mr. Roof had been convicted of a felony or was a drug addict would have resulted in a denial, so she continued to investigate his background.
Because Mr. Roof had been arrested in a small part of Columbia that is in Lexington County and not in Richland County, where most of the city is, the examiner was confused about which police department to call. She ultimately did not find the right department and failed to obtain the police report. Had the examiner gained access to the police report, she would have seen that Mr. Roof had admitted to having been in possession of a controlled substance and she would have issued a denial.
The examiner, however, did send a request to the Lexington County prosecutor’s office, which had charged him, inquiring about the case. The prosecutor’s office, however, did not respond.
Around that time the three-day waiting period expired, and Mr. Roof returned to the store and purchased the gun.
And nine people are dead as a result. Some history on the three-day waiting period:
Due to a National Rifle Association-backed amendment to the 1994 Brady Bill, federal law allows sales to proceed once three business days have elapsed.
Since 1994, federal law has required that licensed gun dealers run background checks on all gun buyers. Since 1998, this check has been run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a series of electronic databases operated by the FBI.
When a dealer runs a check on a potential buyer, he contacts either the FBI or, in some states, a state “point-of-contact”, either by phone or electronically. Operators enter the person’s name into the NICS system and review the person’s criminal records to determine if the person is prohibited from possessing or purchasing guns.
In the vast majority of cases, operators instruct the dealer within minutes that the sale may proceed (a “green light”) or that the sale is denied (a “red light”).
Since its inception, the background check system has blocked more than 2.4 million gun sales to criminals and other dangerous people.
In a small minority of cases (approximately 9 percent in 2014), operators cannot determine from the available records whether the purchaser is prohibited, and will inform the dealer that the background check is in “delay” status (a “yellow light”). Operators will then pursue further records in order to make a determination, including by contacting courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement.
Operators will continue to research the case until a definitive conclusion is made—but federal law allows the dealer to proceed with the sale after three business days, regardless of whether the investigation is complete.
This is what’s called “default proceed” and I can think of nothing that makes less sense. When dealing with deadly weapons and instruments of mass murder, your default position should not be to “proceed.” Your default position should be to deny.
The gun laws in this country are fucking stupid.