Accused Charleston church gunman Dylann Roof should not have been able to purchase the gun he used in the shooting. A flaw in the federal background check system allowed Roof to buy the gun even though he previously admitted to drug possession. The Federal Bureau of Investigation cited mistakes by agents and a breakdown in communications with local prosecutors as actions that allowed the 21-year-old Roof to purchase the .45-caliber handgun used in the shooting.
Roof is accused of shooting nine parishioners at a historically black church in South Carolina during a Wednesday evening prayer service on June 16. One little girl survived the attack by playing dead and another person was allowed to live to tell authorities what happened during the incident. Republicans and Democrats quickly seized on the background check failure as evidence of their views on gun laws and their effectiveness.
The background check system for firearms was implemented to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, mentally ill people, and drug users. However, federal authorities have been unable to create a seamless way of examining Americans’ criminal histories despite spending billions of dollars to upgrade the background check system in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Over the past few years, there have been numerous instances of people that should have been flagged by the federal background check system being allowed to acquire guns.
At issue currently is a loophole in the three-day waiting time for purchasing a gun. This loophole has allowed thousands of prohibited buyers, including Roof, to legally purchase firearms over the past decade. Under federal law, the F.B.I. has three business days to determine whether there is enough evidence to deny the purchase. If there is no answer, the purchaser can return to the dealer on the fourth day and buy the gun.
Roof reportedly sought to buy the gun on April 11. The dealer called the F.B.I. for approval to sell the gun to Roof. The F.B.I., which operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, withheld approval to investigate Roof’s criminal history, which showed he had recently been arrested. The examiner sent a request to the Lexington County prosecutor’s office inquiring about the case, but the prosecutor’s office did not respond. The examiner failed to obtain the police report that showed Roof admitted to having been in possession of a controlled substance. When the three-day waiting period expired, Roof returned to the store and purchased the gun.