Thursday, the Justice Department reached a settlement with survivors and families of victims in the 2015 shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The agreement allows for families of victims to receive between $6 million and $7.5 million, while survivors will receive $5 million. Fourteen plaintiffs were part of the lawsuit, all of whom claimed that failures with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Checks System allowed convicted shooter Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used in the massacre.
The FBI agreed and James Comey, who was the agency’s director at the time, promised that the FBI would “get better.”
“We are all sick this happened,” Comey said in 2015. “We wish we could turn back time.” While Comey claimed the FBI changed how examiners conduct background checks, the loophole that Roof was able to exploit remains in place.
Known as a “default proceed” sale, the loophole allows gun stores to close a sale with a customer if the FBI’s background check system takes longer than three business days to process. It is still a federal law and became known colloquially as the “Charleston loophole” following the shooting.
In Roof’s case, an FBI examiner assigned to look into his background check was unable to definitively confirm further information about a drug charge he faced. He was arrested in Lexington County, South Carolina but the examiner never heard back from the county prosecutor. The sheriff’s office told the examiner to contact the Columbia police but the examiner accidentally dialed up the West Columbia police department, who had no records pertaining to the charge.
Had the examiner received more information, especially pertaining to Roof’s drug use, he would have been unable to purchase the gun. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which allowed the lawsuits from Emanuel AME Church victims’ families and survivors to go forward, agreed. “There is no dispute that the information in this report would have been sufficient to establish that Roof was an unlawful user of a controlled substance who could not lawfully possess a firearm,” the court noted in a ruling.
Had Roof failed to obtain the gun from the West Columbia dealer, he still could’ve found a way to legally buy one. South Carolina law allows private gun sales to occur without any background checks necessary. None of these laws have changed since the tragedy at Emanuel AME. Demand that lawmakers pass background check legislation that can help put an end to mass shootings. Make sure nothing stands in Congress’ way from passing sensible gun reform by signing this petition urging lawmakers to put an end to the filibuster.